Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book review of the week

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton, ₤14.99)
It takes the recent death of novelist Barry Cole – a genuine Age of Aquarius mad-lad who hung out with BS Johnson and was brought in to clear up after the great man committed suicide – to remind us that there was once such a thing as a genuine literary avant-garde. There is still one now, of course, only it long ago lost any kind of connection with the mainstream and rarely gets reported in the newspapers, which means we have to make do with the likes of Mr Dave Eggers here.
The left-field credentials of Mr E’s lamentably-titled new one rest on the fact that it is composed entirely. . .

Continued on p27 of the 8-21 August issue of Private Eye, in all good bookshops now and a snip at $10. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Rachel Glucina edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians and famous sporty types. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course.

Felled by flu, I was unable to attend Friday’s luncheon which featured the NZ Herald’s gossip writer Rachel Glucina, but here is a guest post from Joshua Drummond (regular readers may recall his Horrible Painting of Michael Laws) who did attend and, as a trained and skilled graduate of the course, took notes. He reports:

Steve Braunias kicked things off in customary style with a speech and congratulations to various personages in the room, alluding to several people who’d refused to come to hear Glucina speak, because they might catch her lack of ethics, or something. He did a shout-out to Dave Snell, Dr of Boganology, whom I mention here because he’s a good mate and he has a documentary series on bogans coming up on TV2. Watch it, because it’s about actual New Zealand people, and fuck-all primetime NZ television is these days. End plug.

Glucina’s talk was done as a Q&A with Braunias, which was a useful change in format. Several Press Club speakers, while still instructive, have alternately droned and babbled. She began it, bright and bubbly, with talk of previous guest “Holmsie” [Paul Holmes], an affectation that pissed me off straight away, and how she’d got good and boozed with him and he’d become a mentor and role model with the advice: “You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to break stories.”

Braunias prompted her into an anecdote about her story on Mick Jagger, which was genuinely interesting because it snapped her out of the self-absorbed mode, and had her discussing the way she went about pursuing the story. Braunias asked about the ethics of outing Alison Mau and her same-sex relationship. Well, that was fine, Glucina opined, because everyone knew about it anyway. Everyone? Well, yes, and besides, Mau had sold stories to women’s magazines in the past so she was fair game.

The things that came to mind at this point were: no, the public didn’t know, and what right did she have to out someone? Surely it’s a personal decision to publicly reveal your sexuality? Braunias asked something similar. No, that didn’t matter, because Mau was in the public eye and had sold stories, and blah fucking blah. It was around then I fired off the following tweet:
Well this is fucked. #rachelglucina
Much more of this sort of thing followed. Any talk of whether it was worth wrecking people’s lives was met with the argument that they were in the public eye, so what. Laughing, she spun a yarn about her pursuit of the Ridges, with some ghoulish “friends” who’d sold them out to her. It had me cringing. A person at my table passed me a note. It said “Sociopath = no remorse.”

When she wasn’t playing up her close celebrity relationships, or how important she was because people called her to tell her shit, or how many contacts she had (“literally hundreds!”) Glucina was genuinely sympathetic. People had abused her quite horribly, as well as offering her bribes and (mystifyingly) “taken their clothes off” at her to try and get her not to write things. She spoke of Cameron Slater’s hideous social-media campaign against her – “hate speech”, she said – which nearly forced her to England. A chance meeting with the CEO of APN kept her in New Zealand.

Braunias did ask whether she’d paid much attention to her minor role in noted gossip Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics. No, she hadn’t read it, and she’d never met Hager anyway. What did she think of Hager? “Don’t know, never met him.” She said it with a snap.

One of the best bits was her story of how Judith Collins brokered a friendship between her and Slater. The way she told it, Collins had buttonholed her at a cocktail party and said she’d arranged for Slater to apologise to her. Glucina doubted it would happen, but it did. She seemed uncomfortable with the outcome – which isn’t surprising as it looks like Collins had essentially said, “Children: your bickering is becoming politically inconvenient. How can I advance my career when my dogs are fighting? Make up, now.” And they did.

People were well warmed up for the Q&A. It quite quickly became, in Braunias’ closing words, fractious. Most questions centred on whether what she did was ethically tenable. Justifications varied. Questions about the depths her gossip plumbed were met with “It’s my job.” She swatted away allegations of partisan bias with “I’m just a gossip columnist.”

Comedian Te Radar came up with a question that was more of an impassioned riposte about how she’d portrayed herself as a Breaker of Stories and a Purveyor of the Public Interest, but who actually mostly broke stories about which rugby league player got a taxicab blowjob from whom. Her response amounted to: “If the public read/click on it, then it was obviously in the public interest to release it.” My thoughts are that just because that the public are interested doesn’t mean that it’s in their interest. Cynicism compels me to think that if anything, it’s in the newspaper’s interest.

My question about whether tweeting a picture of Aaron Smith’s schlong was ethically OK got a “Well, everyone had already seen it.” Well, no, not really. Or even slightly, actually. “It was doing the rounds.” But the public hadn’t seen it. “He shouldn’t have taken it.” How is it his fault if he got betrayed by a supposed friend? “We talked to his agent.” I don’t want to see dick pics from the New Zealand Herald in my feed. “You don’t have to follow me.” Well, I don’t, but it was retweeted.

At this point it was turning into an argument and Braunias moved on to the next question, which was fair enough. I’d had too much wine and my reputation for asking obnoxious questions was threatening to get out of hand. A woman sensibly followed up with a question about whether Glucina would have done the same if the subject of the picture had been a woman. Sadly, I can’t remember enough of the response to paraphrase it. Perhaps someone else who was there will.

Some guy asked a stupid question about how Glucina could even be friends with Judith Collins. Braunias didn’t even bother with that one. Metro editor Simon Wilson asked if she was aware that she was being played by people as much as she was playing them. Her answer, paraphrased, was: yes, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because people read and clicked and her job was done. All part of the game.  I got to ask another question: “Rachel, you’re clearly good bros with John Key and Judith Collins. You must know a lot about them. Are you an equal-opportunity gossip? Are we going to find out interesting facts about them?” She said, essentially, “Uh, maybe.” I said, “When?” Laughter. No actual answer, though.

David Slack closed the Q&A amid some vocal run-on questions from others in the crowd. His rich intonation sailed above the quarrelling of the mob as he queried how we could be sure of the veracity of Glucina’s second-hand claims. Her answer, which bordered on tautology, was that we can because they’re true. OK.

It was all very interesting. Kudos to Steve Braunias for bringing in a fascinating guest. It was worthy as a snapshot of the changing face of news and for the genuine questions posed about the nature of what constitutes public interest. It was also an insight into a deeply fucked-up personality: an art historian, a self-identified homebody who turns in early, hates parties and whose day job is spinning vituperation. It was Interview with the Pit Viper.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 election: Keith Holyoake edition

This Internet Party vid with young people chanting “Fuck John Key”. Yes, terrible. Young people today, etc.

In 1969 Keith Holyoake, the then Prime Minister (above), held an election meeting in the Tauranga Town Hall, aka National Party central. It was open to all. Back then, this was normal. The public could come along and listen to politicians, question them and even shout at them. Innocent days, before spin doctors, TV and ruthless party image control.

That night, I sat upstairs with my fellow sixth-former David Withers and his cassette player, and every time Holyoake said something about the Vietnam War that annoyed us, David cranked up the volume of his Country Joe and the Fish tape, the one with the famous obscene version of the Fish cheer:
“Gimme an F, Gimme a U, Gimme a C, Gimme a K. What does that spell?”

David and I chanted along with it. We were thrown out. Holyoake won a fourth term.

I wonder if these young Internet Party supporters chanting “Fuck John Key” have really thought this through.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Waikato Times letter of the week #52

A bumper crop, two letters from the 4 August edition. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and logic are all exactly as published:
The number 12
Why the number 12?
It’s amazing why the number 12 is such an historic number and used in legal documents —12 for jury duty —12 good men and true; 12 months in the year; 12 inches in the imperial foot measurement or, is it all just a coincidence?
Today’s education still circles around this number which governs the Western World in so many ways. Even our time pieces – clocks/watches start and end on the number 12. Did it all originate with religion and the 12 apostles?
If anyone says they are not religious they maybe haven’t understood what starts the day and guides us through each and every day – time.
Whether we believe it or not – religion governs the Western World by day and by night and our everyday lives. If you’re clocking on and clocking off or, and any other daily activity! It all started this way about 2000 years ago. Check your watch and see if it is still telling you what to do and where to go. The number 12 is at the top on your watch face!

Question of morality
Peter Dornauf’s opinion (Bronze age outlook causes strife, July 28) contains many errors. 
Science has advanced to the point where it is able to acknowledge that the universe was created. 
The announcement on March 17, 2014 of the latest discovery of ripples in the fabric of space-time (gravitational waves) further confirmed this. 
A physicist explained “. . . at this point, creation is a scientific fact”.
Slavery in ancient Israel was different from what was practised in the United States. In the United States, men and women were sold and became the property of the owners and had no rights. 
In ancient Israel, it was usually the decision of the person to become a slave to pay off a debt or relieve severe poverty. They would sell themselves as servants. 
Hebrew slaves had rights and the law warned against mistreating them. 
After six years the slaves were set free and the master was to send them out with abundant provisions: Deut. 15:12-15. 
I’m unsure how morality can evolve and still retain its original intent/purpose. It may certainly widen its application to cover new examples.
What is the basis for blessing same-sex marriages? Is it based on rights and if so, what are the supporting reasons?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The best of Bob Jones

Today’s Herald – we cancelled our subscription today – has an ad for Bob Jones’s new book. It says:
The Perfect Father’s Day Present
The best of Bob Jones’ columns in their uncut entirety

And here is the cover:

You know I’m a peaceful man, but if anybody gives me this book for Father’s Day I will punch them.

So here are the Band at Woodstock in 1969 with “The Weight”:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Subtitling the Australians

On Monday the Waikato Times ran an expanded version of this Fairfax story about two of our Commonwealth Games athletes having a niggle. In the 5000m Nick Wills inadvertently tripped Jake Robertson who, let’s say, expressed his disappointment. All’s well that ends well:
Asked if he and Robertson had spoken, Willis said: “I gave him a hug and kiss after the race when he congratulated me on my medal just now, that’s all we’ve talked about.”

The WaikTimes expanded remix includes a quote from Athletics New Zealand’s Australian-born high-performance coach Scott Goodman:
“I will do whatever I can to help them. They can be the real duck’s guts [Australian term for brilliant].”

So it has come to this: subtitles for Australians.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Michael Gifkins

Michael Gifkins, literary agent, editor and author, died on Monday night. His long-time friend and colleague Geoff Walker remembers him here and reminds us that before Michael became a literary eminence he had been a fisherman, wharfie and stonemason and then taught at Auckland University. I might add that he also wrote an excellent column of book-trade gossip for the Listener. He was a wicked gossip.

My copy of his first short-story collection After the Revolution (Longman Paul) is enscribed for me and dated 29 November 1982. That was from the book launch, which is where we first met. There is a line in the title story I have always remembered, in a scene from a game of tennis:
She paused to hitch a collapsing sock, and Antony’s gaze was rewarded by a pair of delicate olive legs, and the poignant marbling of a varicose vein behind one slender knee.
Observant, sensual, witty and with a hint of cruelty. That was Michael. At least, the first three attributes were.  The hint of cruelty, in my experience, was not in the life but in the writing and was one element that gave it a distinctive edge in New Zealand writing at the time.

There were two more collections of short fiction, Summer is the Côte d’Azur (Penguin) in 1987 and The Amphibians (Penguin) in 1989. He had been writer in residence at Auckland University in 1983 and then Menton fellow in 1985, when many if not most of these stories were written. There was “Providing Intelligence” in Sport 6 and “Romancing Alison Holst” in Sport 8 but as far as I know that was it for publication.

Soon after Michael returned from Menton, so probably 1986, in the upstairs bar at what is now the Mercure hotel we had a drink. Possibly two or three. He talked of writing a book of essays. He would have started it: I wish he had finished and published it. He was a clear, bracing thinker about New Zealand culture, its place in the world and the internal relations within it. His view was very different from, say, Michael King’s, but was just as thoughtful, informed and considered.

So I always enjoyed talking with him. He was so smart, so urbane, so sophisticated and with a hint of wickedness. And always high-grade gossip. I didn’t know quite anyone like him.  How did Westlake college produce this? When I told Elizabeth Smither that he had died, she replied: 
Michael was the equivalent in the literary world of Peter McLeavey in the visual arts. He and Peter invented themselves, down to the smallest details, but they brought high standards and the flavour of something different and better.
He was a brilliant editor of fiction: he told me about one famous author’s award-winning novel that he still had shoeboxes full of ditched chapters from it.

And then he became a literary agent and was brilliant at that too. Just ask Lloyd Jones. Friends of mine asked him to represent them: he was kind and courteous in declining to do so if, to be coarse, he couldn’t see a buck in it. He put many, many hours into manuscripts he could see a buck in. Ming Cher’s Spider Boys, for example, which he worked on for so long and which was nearly made into a movie. And then came Lloyd Jones’s Mr Pip. Ka-ching!

That first book of Michael’s was a deal too: from memory, he presented the publisher with a package of edited text, type-design and cover art, so all the publisher had to do was press the print button and distribute it. Canny as: a lower cost for the publisher, so a higher return for the author. This is not so different from the self-publishing that authors do on Amazon now. Michael was years ahead of his time.

He was very good to me – he sent me editing jobs he had been offered when he had moved on from that, and was always very generous with his time. I spent many years advising members of the NZ Society of Authors on publishers’ contracts and whenever I got stuck I would consult the expert. Every time, Michael sent a long email explaining the technicalities of particular clauses. There are well over a dozen New Zealand authors who unknowingly received free advice from our top agent.

But what I remember most is his charm. He really made you feel that he was delighted to see you. His face lit up. He was a great networker so would eventually move on to someone more interesting, attractive or useful, but until then you were given major charm.

As you can see in that photo above (click on it for a larger version). I was going to crop it so it was just Michael but I have left it entire to show him in typical convivial context, surrounded by writers. This was an evening at the Frank Sargeson house in Takapuna in the late 1980s or early 90s. That’s Lisa Greenwood foreground left; Caroline Ireland and Elizabeth Caffin on the right; and in the centre is Michael, typically delighted to be talking to whoever the obscured woman is. It is a classic Michael Gifkins expression and that is how I will remember him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Money for writers #6: Mr D’Arcy edition

The Michael King’s Writers Centre has announced two three-month residencies worth $3000 each so you can write an essay of about 10,000 words on New Zealand life and culture: 
This is an opportunity for writers to contribute to a genre which has been neglected in New Zealand literature over recent decades. The winning writers will reside in a two-bedroom cottage on the hill above Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island with a stipend of $1000 a month.

Applications close on 15 September. The two winners will be announced on 17 October. Full details here.

These are called the D’Arcy Residencies. The sponsor is Mark D’Arcy, a former Westie who has done rather well in the US: as Chief Creative Officer of Time Warner’s Global Media Group he was one of the movie execs who in 2010 came to Wellington to keep the Hobbit movie project alive, and he is now Facebook’s director of Global Creative Solutions, whatever that means. He is also a top bloke. 

I can’t remember if the house is within walking distance of the Onetangi pub but even if not it would be a very pleasant place to spend three months. The view from the deck is spectacular.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Money for writers #5

Have project, will travel. Creative New Zealand has some funding for authors to go to overseas festivals and similar events. From the officialese:
Priority will be given to those applications that align with Creative New Zealand’s strategic initiatives, such as the Te Manu Ka Tau international visitors’ programme, and the Focus on Asia initiative, including New Zealand’s presence as Guest of Honour at the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) in 2015. 
In addition, we anticipate building strong relationships with close neighbours Australia and key international English language festivals in the UK, Canada and the United States. The current target festivals are:  
Perth Writers Festival (Feb/Mar 2015)Adelaide Festival/ Adelaide Writers' Week (Feb/Mar 2015)Sydney Writers’ Festival (May 2015)Byron Bay Writers Festival (August 2015)Melbourne Writers Festival (August 2015)Brisbane Writers Festival (September 2015)  
Hay on Wye Festival (May 2015)Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 2015)The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (October 2015)  
International Festival of Authors, Harborfront Toronto (October 2015)WordFest, Calgary, Banff (October 2015)Vancouver Writers Festival (October 2015)  
Man Hong Kong Literary Festival (March 2015)Singapore Writers Festival (November 2015)Ubud Writers Festival, Bali (October, 2015) Other literary festivals in the North East Asia region particularly South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Japan  
Berlin International Literature Festival (September 2015) 

CNZ will consider applications to attend other events in other places but “priority will be given to the festivals listed above”. Full details on how to apply at the Book Council website here. Deadline is 29 August.

There is also money available for translation: up to 50% of the translation cost to a maximum of $5000 per title. Full details at the Publishers Association website here

Friday, July 25, 2014

Waikato Times letter of the week #51

From the 24 July edition. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and the non-sequitur at the end are all exactly as published: 
Need for tolerance
Marian Clarke letter (July 23) highlights the single greatest handicap of religions that evolved from the Jewish faith: a lack of tolereance. Most of the current world conflict stems from the notions that “I and my beliefs are right”. The collective millions of unique concepts of God arriving at first one mind muddled notion of him that lasted a nano second then shattered into thousands of different Christian sects, each with specific different ideas, should send a simple message that all concepts of God are individual realities that exist only in the homo sapien mind. All reality is in existence for individuals living. Once dead all reality for that individual is as zero. Anglicans Catholics Jews and Islam need to stop fighting and put tolerance number one. Israel and Palestine could then stop being the proving ground for capitalistic greed for arms-testing.