Thursday, July 2, 2015

Two threesomes

In the adult fiction category of this week’s Nielsen Weekly Bestsellers Lists there are three by the same author. I don’t recall this ever happening before. Two by the same author, yes; three, no. The author is Graeme Lay and the books are his Captain Cook trilogy The Secret Life of James Cook (2013) at #9, James Cook’s New World (2014) at #10, and this year’s James Cook’s Lost World at #2. I assume that with the success of the latest novel people are buying the first two volumes to read them in sequence. Good.

The other thing these novels have in common is that I edited all three.

Spookily, of the 10 novels on the longlist for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Awards for NZ crime fiction, I edited three: Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark, Tina Shaw’s The Children’s Pond and Paul Thomas’s Fallout.

Three must be my lucky number. On the other hand, I am lucky in the authors I get to work with.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Merry Isaac on Tony Fomison


The 80th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the March 1994 issue. I haven’t been able to locate the writer, Merry Isaac, to get her permission to reprint: I hope she doesn’t mind. The image above is one used to illustrate the article: Portrait of Tony Fomison (1986) by Mary McIntyre, who knew Tony well. 

The intro read:
With the major retrospective exhibition Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them? now showing at the Wellington City Art Gallery, there is new interest Tony Fomison’s life and work. His close friend Merry Isaac recalls the days leading up to his death on Waitangi Day 1990.
Tony and I first met when we were teenagers at Canterbury University School of Fine Arts. He was an honours student and I was a first year. We were all jumping around on Murray Grimsdale’s bed laughing because Tony was confessing that he had once murdered his grandmother’s budgie. Tony was jumping too and laughing. I caught his eye and he stopped laughing and lowered his eyes and looked startled and sad at the same time. We seemed to recognise something about each other. He was acting a kind of imp and I was the pretty art student that the boys wanted to get into. Maybe he saw I was more than this. I left art school wearing a pair of his jeans which he’d given me. We were the same size, very skinny, and he came with my other friends down to Lyttelton to see me off on the boat.
I heard stories about Tony but didn’t see him again till 1977 when he came to Wellington for an exhibition of his paintings. We found we had been in the same mental hospital in London, Banstead, a few years apart and we had been in London at the same time.
From 1977 we saw each other more often and when I left my husband in 1980 I went to his house in Auckland and he came back to my hotel for dinner and stayed with me most of the night as I had been arrested that morning and just avoided being put in a mental hospital and was still very frightened. I was catching a plane to England. We watched an old cowboy movie and drank ouzo.
Later, when I settled in Russell, we kept in touch. The last two years of his life I was often in Auckland and saw him a lot. He came to stay in Russell in April 1989 and I saw him each time I was down in Auckland. Early in 1990 I asked him to come up and open my exhibition and to go to the Waitangi celebrations. Five days later he was dead.
Tony was an exceptional friend. He saw through the shit. He could be an old wise man, a father figure, and almost give a lecture and ask me to behave myself. Other times he would be drunk and high and we’d talk and gossip and wonder about the future of the human race. I would watch him paint and he would discuss his work and the technique he was using. Then we’d get his stuff together (he carried everything “in case” in a large grey bag which had to be watched all night regardless of where we went).
Sometimes he would snarl and misbehave at art openings. Once we smoked a cigarette together in the Auckland City Art Gallery sitting on a huge leather sofa staring at the McCahons across the balcony.
There was a dark side to Tony. Like all unloved people he got love where and how he could. But he was also a gentleman and found me seats and opened doors and rang me when he was concerned about me.
The day I took my daughter to meet him he was waiting at the door expectantly, his hair brushed and clean clothes on, the best tea cups ready to make tea. My daughter brought the tea into the studio and Tony and I talked and she sat politely and listened. Occasionally Tony spat into a tin especially there for the purpose.
Afterwards, going down the street, my daughter turned to me and said, “What a disgusting man. Why did you take me to meet him?”
I said, “You’ll remember this visit one day, Gwennie.”
“I sure won’t forget it,” she said.
But at one point, while Tony and I talked, she had toured the room gazing at all the paintings and looking at Tony’s easel and tools. Five months after his death she mentioned Tony. “What a nice little man he was, Mummy. You must be missing him.”
The spitting didn’t matter any more.
Since Tony died I have done 30 paintings depicting his last days. I have been to San Francisco and back. I am here in my house in Russell and often I want to phone Tony and hear him answer the phone, “Ah, gidday, it’s you, Merry. How’s things?”

Saturday night 3 February 1990
The barmaid from the pub phoned to say Tony had arrived. I was cooking dinner and half expected him. I had rung him on the Monday to ask him to come up and stay and open my exhibition and come to Waitangi for the celebrations. He had sounded asleep or drugged or drunk and I wasn’t sure if he understood me so I sent him a letter and an invitation.
I ran down to the pub and looked in the public bar and then tried the bistro. Tony was sitting at an outside table and when he saw me he stood up smiling and put his arms out. We kissed and hugged and he looked very frail. He was with Fiona McLeod who had driven his car up. I bought wine and a jug of beer and we sat under the coloured lights. I wondered how I’d get him up my steps. Loulou arrived grinning when he saw Tony and we all decided to go home.
When I saw him in the light I was fearful.
He had dried blood on his mouth and looked grey and exhausted. I finished cooking the meal. One wiener schnitzel which I managed to spread around the four of us by frying all the vegetables I had in the house with it a la Chinese and served with rice. Tony ate his standing up and then went straight to bed.
Loulou and Fiona stayed and talked till 3am and then I put them both into their beds.

Sunday 4 February
I was up at nine and we sat around upstairs and talked. Then I made a pot of tea and served Weetbix and stewed plums. Tony stood looking out the window and ate a huge plateful as fast as he could. Loulou and Fiona went out in the car and Tony went back to bed. He curled up in the foetus position and slept so deeply he hardly breathed.
Aloma came and took me shopping. I left Tony a note. We took all the stuff around to the Adobe Cottage where I was having my exhibition. And then I came back.
Tony still slept. Finally I woke him to see if he was still hungry but he wanted to keep sleeping so I said I would wake him at 4pm.
I got dressed and when he woke I showed him my outfit and asked him if I should wear the bone tiki. He said, “Yeah! Wear what you like!” So I took it off. I was nervous about the opening...
[At the exhibition opening] we had a few jokes and a few wines. Someone gave Tony a joint to puff. He stood up holding one side of his nose and smoked it like a professional. I was embarrassed. He said, “I must open it now, Merry.” S0 I called out to everyone to come inside ~ lots of people were sitting outside in the sun drinking wine, my paintings forgotten.
Tony stood up and said, “This speech is about artists. There are lots of artists. Some have talent and some don’t. Merry has talent but she has more than this. I call it 5050 » not 5O percent, but made up of two things. Ethics and morals. And this sets her work aside.” And then he sat down abruptly and looked at me.
“Thank you Tony,” I said and then went across the room and kissed him and he laughed his short grunt, and I got him a wine. He drank it straight down. “I want to lie down now,” he said. So I took him the back way to Peter’s bed and rolled him in it... ‘

Monday 5 February
Tony and I made a plan for the day. We first drove to the shops and bought fruit juice, plastic glasses and wine, which Tony paid for and I bought cheese, fruit and cracker biscuits. I drove us to Long Beach and parked. We stumbled down the sand hills laughing and paddled in the sea. Tony took his shoes and socks off and let the water rush over his legs. His legs had dark bruises on them. He grinned at me. We sat on the sand and talked.
“Why don’t you stay a couple of months 7” I said. “We’ve got the car, we could even go up to Cape Reinga.” I was very enthusiastic.
He was smiling and pleased by the sea and stared at it as it rushed backwards and forwards towards us. The land on the horizon, green in the white sun. Blue sky, blue sea, green land and white sand, the light as sharp as a knife. The sea water ran over Tony’s feet. He rubbed at huge dents near his ankles where his socks had formed permanent ridges into his skin...
We started walking up the track to the meeting house. It was cooler under the trees and I held Tony’s arm. We arrived at the PR hut and went inside. We looked at a facsimile of the treaty and Tony explained how the chiefs signed using their mokos as a signature.
We walked around and Tony discussed each chief as if they were personal friends.
He didn’t mention the bad painting. He looked at the kauri roots at the door and patted them. “Oh yes,” he said...
We walked down towards the wharf and sat down near it. Tony immediately lay down looking dead. A Maori man sat on a rock opposite us and kept an eye on us.
I saw the ferry arriving. I pulled Tony up onto his feet. Lots of people were crowding up to catch the ferry. We smoked cigarettes and joked. It was 6.30pm. We all pushed and shoved to get on the ferry as this was the last one.
Tony wanted to sit upstairs. I pushed him up the stairs and we stood at the top. People stared at us and at last I found him a seat. I hovered over him, standing. A Maori man came and took photos leaning on my shoulder to steady his camera, his head close to mine. Tony started up a conversation with the men sharing his bench. They made room for me. We all shared a wine from the cask. They were from Tonga. Tony and the one closest to him had a cheerful conversation. Everyone on the boat was talking to everyone else and happy. The sun was slowly receding. We walked down the wharf and I retrieved the cameras from the pub and drove us back to the house. Tony went straight to bed and I cooked dinner and said I would wake him.
I woke him at 9.30 and he got up to eat. He sat at the table and took one mouthful.
“Yuk! I can’t eat this.” I apologised and said I was sorry but I had to make a large meal because I didn’t know what Loulou and Fiona were doing. It was mince made into bolognaise. Even I didn’t like it much.
Suddenly out in the sky above Waitangi fireworks started exploding. I ran out onto the deck calling out to Tony to come and look. He turned in his seat and watched them through the window. It was an amazing sight and his mouth fell open.
“That was just right,” I said. “Just long enough. It was like cells dividing.”
“A pattern,” said Tony, slightly disgusted. He went back to bed. And I cleaned up. 
I went upstairs to bed. I looked out the window at the night. The stars were shining so brilliantly their rays seeming to shoot out at each other, touching each other, communicating.
The whole universe is centred on us tonight, I had told my mother on the phone earlier. And it seemed true. I had never seen this phenomenon before.
I heard Tony talking in his sleep and called out to him, “Are you okay?” 
“Yeah,” he called, “I’m okay.” But he kept chanting and talking in his sleep. I came down the stairs to check on him and he lay in bed curled up like a tiny grey foetus. “Are you okay?” I asked. His eyes opened. “Yeah, I’m okay.” ‘
“You can’t die in my house, Tony. I’m going to ring Hilary, you need a doctor.”
“No I don’t. Don’t ring Hilary.” ‘
“Well Tony, you can’t die here.”
“I won’t, Merry.”
“Oh God!” And I kiss him. And pull the sheets up. And go back upstairs. And smoke a cigarette and hear him talking again. At least he’s not dead if he is talking.
Later I hear him snoring very loudly. I give up on sleep at 5am and get up and make tea. And get my stuff together for Waitangi.
We are leaving on the first ferry at 7am.

Tuesday 6 February, Waitangi Day
I woke Tony at 5.30 and gave him time to wake up. Out he came. “I think I’ll shave today,” he said. He drank some wine and ate some Weetbix and went back into his room to sort out his outfit. “I’m going to wear my lavalava,’-’ he called out.
“Today we must wear whatever we like,” I called back.
“I’ll wear my bone necklace,” he called.
“And a tiki,” I said.
He came out all ready. He had on a short T-shirt which was tie-dyed like a tattoo.
His own tattoos were displayed between the top of the T-shirt and his yellow ochre Samoan-patterned lavalava. The bone necklace was around his neck, painted orange and crudely made. Hanging separately was an ancient tiki....
[On the way to the treaty house] a friend stopped to talk. A lot of these friends who stopped to talk to Tony had modulated educated voices and were delighted to see him. They had trendy clothes and genuine glee at seeing someone they knew so far from home. Tony talked patiently, introducing me as I held him up and they as usual ignored me.
At last we were at the treaty house and walked in front of the audience packed into tiers floating above the grounds. Tony wanted to first sit in the tiers but I told him it was too dangerous if we wanted to leave quickly. Then he wanted to sit on the grass in front of them. I kept him walking. We crossed the grass and found a gap in front of the north tiers. We sat down on the grass.
We kept walking. We arrived at the bridge. Hundreds of people were milling around.
“I’ll sit here,” said Tony. He lay down under the tree close by. “You can’t die here Tony,”
I cried. “I’ll go and find out about the ferries, there must be one going back to Russell soon. Stay here, I’ll only be a moment.”....
We all helped carry Tony into the emergency tent. I could hear the band playing bagpipes. The doctor asked me to watch and squeeze the transfusion bag. I thought about the liquid not getting through and squeezed and watched it.
The transfusion bag was pegged with an ordinary plastic clothes peg to the cord above the bed. Tony lay there and sometimes looked up at me and slightly nodded his head. I suddenly found tears pouring down my face and I couldn’t control myself.
I wiped my face on my rainbow jacket. Then I recovered.
It was decided to take Tony down to Kawakawa hospital and I held the transfusion bag as he was lifted and carried to the ambulance.
The band started playing Cook Island drums as we left. “See,” I wanted to say, “they know you’re here.” But I realised how stupid that was... _
He lay back in the bed and put the blankets back around himself. And we talked.
He wanted to know when his sister was coming. He looked sad when he heard it was Friday. I would ring her again, I told him. “Tell her to bring the children,” he said.
He had the light on beside the bed.” We talked about the doctor and the nurses. I told him I had discussed him with the doctor and asked him how often the nurses came to see him. I said I must go to ring up his sister and the nurses’ hostel was locked up at 12 so I would ring his ward all night and they had promised to ring me. And I stood up and went towards him and kissed him on the lips. ‘
“Good night Tony,” I said, but in my head I said “I love‘ you.” But tonight I couldn’t say it out loud because it was true and I might cry in front of him.
I stood back and the nurse came in and began checking Tony’s transfusions and I said with a grin, “See you later, mate!” And off I went...

Wednesday 7 February
At 10pm the hospital rang the pub. Tony was fading fast. I felt terrible. I am having a nightmare and I’m awake...
I sat on my deck and looked at the stars and thought of, Tony fading away. If you can fade away you can fade up again. I was frightened.
What planet did Tony come from? I’d asked a Maori friend in the pub. “He was the last of a line, Merry, he won’t be back,” he replied.
But I saw him strutting in the night sky, younger, with a cloak swirling around him, a kind of Vagabond. I slept in the bed he had slept in with clean sheets. I kept the French doors open to the night. 
The telephone rang at 6am the next morning. It was the hospital. Tony died at 11pm last night and his family arrived at 11.l5pm.

Saturday 10 February
[at the funeral] I looked down at Tony’s body and face. He was lying encased by white satin, quilted and new. His lavalava on, exposing his tattoos. His tie-dyed T-shirt stretched over his chest. The orange-stained bone necklace hung around his neck. His face was wider and larger than before in life and the skin seemed stretched tightly over his bones, making -his face smirk in an evil grimace. He was lying rigid on his back and his hair had been combed flat. It wasn’t him. He had always slept, his hair in chaos, in the foetus position. This was a new Tony I had never met. I could not kiss him and instead stared, unable to speak. I moved away quickly and walked outside, leaving his mother beside him...
I thought of Tony being buried under the earth. But he wasn’t, he was talking to me, right then, inside my head. Go away, Tony, I said to my head.
I walked into the Downtown centre and bought a bus ticket for the next day back to Russell. And then I suddenly asked them to change it and bought a ticket for right then.
I wanted to go home.
In Russell I ate a bistro meal and walked home. The stars nodded a hello but only stating that they were there. My house was neat and clean from all the cleaning I had done before I left.
I lay down in the bed that Tony had slept in and left the French doors open. And this time I wept. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Wanted: an editor for Metro

Bauer Media advertises at www.seek.co.nz:
Editor - Metro
Bauer Media, New Zealand’s leading magazine publisher, is seeking an editor for the METRO brand.
Metro is an award winning iconic brand that celebrates all things Auckland.  It’s a leading commentator on Auckland affairs and a vital part of the life of the city. Metro’s coverage of restaurants, schools, culture and the arts is pre-eminent, and has a raft of leading contributing feature writers and columnists.
The brand has two very successful websites, busy social media, an app, and hosts great events. But there is great opportunity to extend this brand into other revenue streams and the new editor would be heavily involved in these commercial opportunities.
We are looking for an outstanding editor who lives and breathes the magazine’s values.  To apply, you need to have journalism experience, writing for magazines and/or newspapers, with a commitment to editorial excellence and innovation. You will also need to have knowledge of what makes Auckland tick and what Aucklanders want from their magazine, plus a nose for a darn good story.
You need to be a creative, solution orientated brand champion who can expand Metro across the different platforms, in print, in online media and as other opportunities arise.  You will know how to focus on projects offering the best returns; have strong business acumen, and a proven track record of achieving commercial success.
You will be a comfortable and assertive project manager and be able to lead a small but highly motivated team. Your strong leadership of your team is crucial – you set the editorial vision, tone and themes for Metro. In addition to your print media abilities, you will need to be comfortable and confident as the public face of the brand: in front of a camera and in other media, hosting events, and working closely with advertising clients.
Your public profile will be an important driver of your magazine’s future success.
We offer a vibrant, energetic environment for people who bring passion and commitment to their work, and enjoy a culture where successes are recognised and celebrated.
If this sounds like you, please attach a current cv and covering letter saying why you’d be the best choice to lead this iconic brand into the future to jobs@bauermedia.co.nz

A smartarse young friend posted this ad to my Facebook page, saying, “Hey Stephen, have you ever thought about going back? Cause they’re looking for a ‘creative, solution orientated brand champion’ and of course those words immediately made me think of you!”

I have passed this ad on to friends who also used to work at Metro. Hilarity ensued, and not only at “working closely with advertising clients”. We also wonder whether applicants for the job will be made aware that the previous editor will be a presence. I am sure he is a very nice fellow, but this arrangement has not always worked out well before.

So here are Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention live in 1971 with “Does This Kind of Life Look Interesting to You?”:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lookalikes: Chris Trotter and Gioachino Rossini

Can you tell which is which?

One was an Italian opera composer (a stranger to writer’s block, he wrote The Barber of Seville in three weeks) and gourmand. Quote unquote: 
One can’t judge Wagner’s opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don’t intend to hear it a second time.
The other is a New Zealand left-wing columnist and blogger (and a fine singer too). Quote unquote: 
Perhaps Labour could be saved if, like the ancient Romans, they were willing to install a dictator to “save the Republic” from its enemies (in the case of Labour’s membership that would be themselves!) someone capable of turning the party into a lean, mean electoral machine.
 Except, of course, Labour’s never going to do that. Which is why so many people are telling me “Labour’s finished” – and  why, regretfully, I’m agreeing with them.

So here (can’t embed it, sorry) is Jennifer Larmore as Isabella in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri with the Act I aria “Cruda sorte”. Which translates as “Cruel fate”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An hour with Steve Braunias and David Slack


The Auckland Writers Festival has put online a bunch of videos of sessions from last month’s 2015 festival: Noelle McCarthy with Helen Macdonald, Noelle McCarthy with Irvine Welsh, John Campbell with Eleanor Catton, John Campbell with Carol Ann Duffy, Paula Morris with Ben Okri, Catherine Robertson with David Mitchell, that sort of thing. Sessions with Lloyd Jones, Patricia Grace, Tim Winton, Amy Bloom, Alexander McCall Smith, CK Stead, Helen Garner, Anthony Horowitz…

But, unaccountably, not the session on satire I chaired with Steve Braunias and David Slack. (We’re in good company: superstar editor John Freeman’s session with superstar novelist Haruki Murakami isn’t online either.) Here is a review of our session by Christchurch Libraries (quote unquote: “what a sharp-witted triumvirate they were”). Just so it isn’t entirely lost to posterity, here are my rough notes of the event. Regular readers are familiar with my Stratford Theory of Numbers: here follows my Stratford Theory of Satire. It’s all about Feilding.

Friday 15 May: As is traditional, my weekend in Auckland starts with lunch at the Mai Thai with the poets Bland, Brown and Ireland and assorted journalists. I don’t remember much after that.

Saturday 16 May: The only part of these events I enjoy is when we are backstage waiting to go on and the sound technician says into her head-mike, “The talent is standing by.” And then, “The talent is moving to the stage.” The talent. Yes.

Just before this Steve Braunias leaves the green room to see Noelle McCarthy across the corridor. Understandable. We are all a bit tense. Which is good – I don’t trust people who are not tense before a performance. Noelle and I talked about this earlier and agreed that being tense means you take it seriously. David and I discuss whether he should read his satirical obituary from Metro (an Auckland monthly magazine) of a Cabinet minister and a sibling’s incoherent letter of rage in reply. I say yes. David says, “I won’t identify the sibling.”

Once on stage we are all relaxed as. I kick off with: “Prepare to be disappointed. People who are funny in print or in performance are often dull in conversation. Woody Allen is famously not a barrel of laughs. Rowan Atkinson, same. Why should these two be different?” This got a laugh but I wasn’t joking.

“So dial your expectations back a bit, and off we go. Meet the panel: Steve Braunias is the finest satirist Mount Maunganui has produced.” I always plug the authors’ books so say that his Mad Men is for sale at the bookstall: “If you ask him nicely, and if you have bought a copy, he might sign it.”

And then: “David Slack is, by common consent, the finest satirist to come out of Kiwitea. His latest book, Bullrush, is due from HarperCollins in July.”

I quote Juvenal and Jonathan Swift. I quote Danyl McLauchlan of the Dim Post and Francis Wheen of Private Eye. Danyl and Francis advised by email: Juvenal and Swift were off-line.

“New Zealand has produced a good crop of satirists,” I say. “John Clarke is a genius, obviously. The hit TV series A Week of It in the 1970s and McPhail & Gadsby in the 80s were co-written by a couple of lawyers, Chris McVeigh and AK Grant. Alan died in 2000, but Chris is still with us. He is with us right now, in fact, in this room, checking out the younger generation of satirists. I use the word ‘younger’ loosely.” That got a laugh but I wasn’t joking.

And then I got to my Stratford Theory of New Zealand satire:

“What many don’t realise is that Feilding is the epicentre. David Slack is from Kiwitea, just out of Feilding. Tom Scott was raised in Rongotea, just out of Feilding. John Clarke is from Palmerston North, just out of Feilding. AK Grant was from Wanganui, which is not really just out of Feilding but is still in the Manawatu/Rangitikei region.”

My first question to the satirists was: “Steve Braunias, from Mount Maunganui, does it help to be a provincial?” The temperature seemed to drop a degree.

We talked about the work/time involved, the magazine/newspaper editor’s input (if any). There was a nice moment when David Slack said before answering a question how pleased he was that Chris McVeigh was in the room because he had always admired Chris’s work.

I asked, “How do you select your victims? The reader has to know enough to get the jokes – the Metro obituary of Dean Barker was lost on me because I have no interest in the America’s Cup.” That got a laugh but I wasn’t joking. Good answer from David.

I asked, “You can dish it out but can you take it?” This was because Steve Braunias had tweeted on 25 March, “A prominent criminal lawyer has sent me a ‘secret diary’ of myself. It’s cruel, exact & unflattering, & I’m very impressed #noworries #sob.” Good answer from Steve.

I asked, “New Zealand satirists seem to be mostly leftish. Is right-wing satire possible? Asking for a friend.” This got a laugh but I wasn’t joking: I really was asking for a friend. Evasive answers from both.

I asked, “Do the victims take it well? Tell us about some who didn’t.” David was serious for once when he talked about how satire should punch up, not punch down – that is, attack the powerful not the weak. He talked about a Metro obituary of a Cabinet minister and read out the sibling’s letter in response. He repeated what he had said in the green room: “I won’t identify the sibling.”

Steve Braunias interrupted: “Judith Collins’s sister.” Punching up or punching down? You be the judge.

Subsequently there have been discussions online about chairs at the festival talking too much and over the talent. Yes, this is annoying for the audience (one chair was heckled for it) but it can be hard to know when the talent has finished speaking – some speakers leave l-o-n-g pauses in their replies to questions. This could be because they are thinking Deep Thoughts, or because they have lost the thread, or because they are drunk. The chair doesn’t know. If you panic and jump in, you can end up talking over the talent and look like a plonker or, worse (when the talent is a woman), a mansplainer.

This must have been a challenge for John Freeman when chairing Murakami, the master of the Deep Thought pause. It was a challenge for me with Steve Braunias too, because he speaks slowly anyway but likes to say something outrageous, pause, then deliver the punchline. And you really, really don’t want to get between Steve Braunias and his punchline.

Later that night: dinner at Coco’s Cantina on Saturday is for us as traditional as the poets’ lunch on Friday, and then the writers’ party at the usual secret location on Karangahape Road. I caught up there with John Freeman, with whom I did a session in 2010, Helena Brow and others, including the husband of the designer who made my wife’s wedding dress in 1998. How New Zealandy is that?

Sunday 17 May: In the hotel lobby before check-out a big-name NZ author confessed to me that she fell asleep during the Murakami session on Saturday night because she was still hungover from Friday. Saturday is the large night for authors at the secret location, but she had peaked too soon.

Over the weekend I didn’t meet any international stars new to me apart from Damian Barr, a very nice man who introduced himself in the minibus to the venue, but was in the presence of David Walliams (seems nice) and Helen Macdonald (also seems nice). She spent more than an hour signing books after her session. At Walliams’ signing session the queue extended out into Aotea Square. He spent about two hours signing and was patient and charming with the children. I have children: I could not do that.

Aftermath: Despite all the doom and gloom in the book trade, the festival was a great success. The room for our satire session seats 620 and was sold out: people were turned away. Overall there were 60,000 tickets sold, which is 20% up on 2014 when for the first time since we started the festival in 2000 I did not chair a session. This year I did. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #52

This is from the edition of Tuesday 9 June. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Fact or perception
Religions and any discussions as to the facts can only ever be perceptions espoused by folks who are conditioned/educated or experience some character changing event. All reality is related to the mind and how our minds interpret perceptions that we are able to convey to other humans. All perceptions will be unique and personal! There is no way of knowing that what we say is “red” is exactly the same as viewed by others. What I see and what you see will be different – we experience an approximation that is acceptable as similar.
Claims religions are the source of morality can only be the thinking of some similar perceptions to those making the claim. It is a reasonable perception that all living forms’ main purpose is to reproduce successfully. To do will at times require many to be eliminated/killed! Thus a mother’s born instinct is to protect/nurture her offspring. But there may be times when ensuring survival will require killing of offspring. Perceptions on such issues will always be subject to interpretations of right and wrong. Morality is just grouped Homo sapean perceptions.
Barry Ashby
Raglan
So here is Eddie Vedder with Betchadupa in April 2001:

.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What I’m reading #127

Australian novelist Gerald Murnane is interviewed (written questions, typewritten answers) by Tristan Foster for 3:AM Magazine. Quote unquote:
You mention the craftsmanship of my writing. I wouldn’t dare give myself a ranking among my contemporaries in any field other than craftsmanship. And in that field I’d rank myself first. My sentences are the best-shaped of any sentences written by any writer of fiction in the English language during my lifetime. The previous sentence is a fair average sample of my prose.

Alex Tabarrok, an economist,. takes apart Ursula K Le Guin’s recent tirade against Amazon (“Every book purchase made from Amazon is a vote for a culture without content and without contentment”) and suggests that it is “more about her hatred of capitalism than about Amazon’s actual effect on the market for books”. Quote unquote:
Today, Amazon sells more Le Guin books than any independent ever did. But Bezos doesn’t revere Le Guin, he treats her books as a commodity. That may distress Le Guin but for readers, book capitalism is a wonder, books and books and books available on our devices within seconds, more books than we could ever read; a veritable fountain, no a firehose, no an Amazon of books.

Rachel Laudan writes “A Plea for Culinary Modernism” in praise of processed food and dispraise of “the tyranny of the local” (monitor: Lauraine Jacobs). Quote unquote:
Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilized, the poor, and the starving resorted. When the compiler of the Confucian classic, the Book of Rites (ca. 2oo BC), distinguished the first humans — people who had no alternative to wild, uncooked foods – from civilized peoples who took “advantage of the benefits of fire . . . [who] toasted, grilled, boiled, and roasted,” he was only repeating a commonplace.
When the ancient Greeks took it as a sign of bad times if people were driven to eat greens and root vegetables, they too were rehearsing common wisdom. Happiness was not a verdant Garden of Eden abounding in fresh fruits, but a securely locked storehouse jammed with preserved, processed foods.

Bianca Zander gets naked for the launch of her terrific second novel, The Predictions. I had two books published last year and kept my clothes on throughout. Call me old-fashioned.

A terrific piece by Robbie Burton of publishers Potton & Burton in defence of self-publishing. Quote unquote:
Its dodgy reputation is often deserved however, and booksellers especially, dread the approach from an author peddling a badly written and produced book who also has completely unrealistic sales expectations.
It’s not accurate however, to tar all self-publishing with this brush, as many fine books get published by their authors, and clearly it is becoming a far more significant part of New Zealand publishing, as the traditional options for getting books into the hands of readers continues to shrink. […]
There has never been a correlation between high book sales and quality. Self-publishing, if done properly, offers a legitimate and important way of getting books published, books that contribute enormously to the diversity of publishing in New Zealand.

Playwright Arthur Meek in the comments on Rosabel Tan’s essay “The Critic in New Zealand”:
Whether reviews of my work are good or bad, I often feel that they’re written with as much distance between me and the critic as if I were from a foreign country or dead. At its best, I’m attributed with succeeding in something I didn’t realise I’d attempted, and at worst I read that I “seem to be trying to…” and have fallen short. I’m always astonished by these suppositions, because I’m only ever a phone call or an email away. In fact, given the size of our community I’m often in the same room. Why don’t practitioners and critics hang out and talk more about what we’re trying to do and how it’s coming across, so we can both gain a better perspective as to whether it’s translating into performance?

Vincent O’Sullivan has ended his term as Poet Laureate. I haven’t linked to his laureate blog as often as I should have but here it is so you can read all the entries. Generous as ever, he devoted his monthly posts to other poets, introducing them and quoting substantial chunks of their work, some of it unpublished elsewhere: for example, John Dennison in February and Emma Neale last December. His final blogpost is about Iain Lonie, whose collected poems, A Place To Go On From, were recently published by Otago University Press, thanks to David Howard’s long and patient work. I was a big fan of Lonie’s and never understood why he wasn’t famous. Quote unquote from Vincent’s note in the book:
He brought to his poetry the precision and clarity and intellectual force of a gifted classical scholar. He was patiently indifferent to passing fashions, with his own more enduring touchstones. And in a remarkable fidelity to the tides of his productive but troubled life, he wrote a body of poems on love and grief and the searing currents of remembrance that, in New Zealand writing, stands alone.

Nominations for Vincent’s successor as Poet Laureate are open now and close on 6 July: details here

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sexual harassment in the workplace

This weekend I am mostly doing an editing job for the Ministry of Certain Things. They sent me a PDF of their 40-page Code of Conduct, according to which I must not bully or sexually harass any of my staff, use inappropriate language or touch them inappropriately.

Chance would be a fine thing. I work home alone.

So here is Frank Zappa, recorded live in 1981, with “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”. Released with wild optimism as a single in 1988, it is basically a guitar solo, performed on a Fender Stratocaster that used to belong to Jimi Hendrix. Nominative determinism: the drummer is called Chad Wackerman.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #51

This is from the edition of Monday 25 May. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Plastic mountains
How life has changed! There used to be a time when bottle drives and working bees were an every weekend event somewhere in the community. What has happened? They seem to have just disappeared from charities’ market. Or is it the exceptional success of the telephone charity programmes network for donations of cash? Our community life has changed and today’s shopping is a succession of plastic containers and shopping bags. A downward spin-off is the community bottle drives and a drop in the number of working bees for charities.
We live in a plastic world where everything is plastic wrapped and bottled, making plastic mountains of rubbish.
Then there is another probability, that the rubbish tin can market is booming and becoming another major money earner.
Our drinking habits seem to be a cause of some change. Now it’s wine bottle drinkers and no longer just beer bottles that changed the glass bottle market.
But is it a sign of the times? We have become more well-to-do?
Ken Weldon
Matangi

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happy birthday, Pete Townshend

He was born on 19 May 1945, which makes him 70 today. I was never a big Who fan but have been listening to Tommy today, as one does, and it has held up better than most 60s “classics”. As a teenager at the time I had the 45 of “Pinball Wizard”. Great use of a descending series of suspended chords on a 12-string and also the combination of acoustic and electric guitars plus brilliant drummer and bassist. All versions of the song by this band are amazing.

So here is the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall on 18 August 2009: