Friday, May 31, 2013

George Monbiot on sheep

‘I have an unhealthy obsession with sheep,’ he admits. ‘It occupies many of my waking hours and haunts my dreams. I hate them.’
His new book, Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding, sounds good even so. What he means by rewilding is not preserving or controlling ecosystems but leaving them alone, letting the animals and plants sort things out themselves. As Spectator reviewer Sam Leith puts it:
He dreams of letting forest re-establish itself where dismal ‘conservationists’ insist on maintaining the desert of heather-and-scrub that centuries of overgrazing have left us. He wants to see beavers plashing in our rivers, ospreys, wolves and (ideally) elephant wandering the Welsh hills and the Scottish highlands, if not the South Downs. He offers well-explained and meticulously evidenced reasons why rewilding large parts of the country could be both economically and ecologically advantageous. But he makes no bones about the deep reason he’s in favour: which is that it would be amazingly cool.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A week is a long time in publishing

Martin Taylor writes in eReport:
It’s been a bad week for New Zealand publishing.  On Tuesday, Pearson Education announced the imminent closure of its New Zealand office. The global publishing giant is restructuring to focus on ‘core’ and ‘emerging’ markets, and New Zealand is neither. And yesterday, Harper Collins joined the exit, announcing its plan to move most of its New Zealand operations, including editorial, to Australia.
That’s a slight overstatement about Pearson: what they said was that they were “entering into a consultation period to determine how they run their business in New Zealand” and that this “may result in the closure of their office”. But yes, all gloomy news. Typically, though, Martin is upbeat:
Our major publishers grew by buying up successful local publishers and winning most of the top talent, so there’s only a tiny independent industry left. There’s now a chance for a renaissance, led by independent publishers — and by new ventures formed from the break-up of global publishers as they exit. Expect to see pieces sold to local management and investors, or picked over by staff to form new start-ups.
How auspicious for Renée Lang of Renaissance Publishing. And as for authors:
One of the first places we need to look is our own authors, especially the top talent that sells thousands rather than hundreds of books. With few exceptions, most of them publish with the multinational imprints, leaving very lean pickings for independents. But quality authors are the cashflow lifeblood of any publishing business.
The time is right for our best authors to consider the role they can play in supporting a renaissance of local publishing. I’m not advocating a wholesale exit from multinational publishers. That would be bad for everyone, and bad for the industry. But there’s plenty of room for new titles and some digital rights to help rebuild an independent local industry.
He ends with a message that could almost be intended for the NZ Society of Authors:
Finally, it’s important that New Zealand continues to be a place where global publishers will want to do business. We certainly need to work hard supporting ventures that are rooted here, even tipping the balance in their favour as we struggle to rebuild. But in doing this, we shouldn’t create an environment hostile to offshore suppliers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What I’m reading #99

Why you should buy a Lotto ticket, even if you are mathy enough to know how pitiful the odds are. According to current quantum mechanics thinking, you will win, possibly many times over. Just not on this planet. (Via Tim Worstall.)

This just in from 7News in Oz:

The Bland Shire in central western New South Wales is considering putting its fame as a dreary destination to good use by associating itself with other negatively named towns.
The local tourism committee is in the early stages of investigating sister city relationships with Dull in Scotland and Boring in the United States. […]
Bland Shire already has one sister city - the seaside town of Whitby in England.
However Councillor Lord says the relationship has not generated a lot of interest over the past decade.

Fancy that. Perhaps they could twin with Palmerston North.

Geographic nominative determinism in the Shetlands. Quote unquote:

A remarkable number of places have monosyllabic names. It’s as if we’ve stumbled on the Pompeii of toponymy. We witness how people practised their name-giving skills, learning to vocalise before they could improvise. You can almost hear them scraping their throats as they point to specific locations, baptising them Woo, Too, Bu, Ha, How and Pow. A second set of monosyllabic place names is already more complex, self-aware. The key one is Yell, summarising what went before. A few seem bent on defining primary places, Ur-locations: Fleck, Nest, Junk, Loot, Grid, Gear, Wart. But what about Snap, or Sung? Maybe these are a third, even more evolved set of monosyllabics, one-word poems that transcend the places they denote.

Maxine Alterio’s wonderful novel Lives We Leave Behind, about New Zealand nurses in World War I but also so much more, is being published in France and this is the cover:

Unusually for international publication this is, apart from the French text, the same as the New Zealand cover. I was going to review the novel here but it went straight into the top 10 bestseller list and stayed there for months so it didn’t need me. Do read it if you haven’t already — it is a wonderful evocation of the time and places, and every bit as good as her unforgettable 2007 debut novel Ribbons of Grace, still the best novel about transvestism among Chinese goldminers in Arrowtown.

Thomas Jones on rules for writing (via Josh Easby): good advice on metaphors and some very amusing comments. Set the comments to Oldest First to read the best ones, about elephants in Samoa.

Keith Richards (via Brent Parlane) gives a masterclass on how to be tight and loose – this YouTube clip gives his rhythm guitar part for “Can You Hear Me Knocking?” from Sticky Fingers in splendid isolation, followed by Mick Taylor’s solo, likewise solo. Charlie Watts is all very well but listening to Keith isolated you can hear exactly why the Stones sound like the Stones:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tweet of the week

This comes from Chris Keall who rejoices in the title “Technology Editor/Head of Digital, NBR”:
First fire of the year. Suddenly print media seems relevant again.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oh Donna

Donna Chisholm, Metro’s editor at large (least flattering job title ever), has won a libel case taken against her, or at least had it dismissed, which amounts to the same thing.

When I was at Metro I had to defend a libel suit taken by someone who objected to a joke I wrote and who hadn’t noticed it until Alister Taylor, bless him,  pointed it out. Being sued for a million dollars does concentrate the mind, and took a month of lawyering. We caved in; with Donna, righteousness prevailed.

Donna doesn’t get enough credit. She was a major force at the Auckland Star and later the Sunday Star-Times and devised and ran the SST’s short-story competition, which brought many new writers to national attention. I don’t really know how Metro and North  & South work these days, but Donna seems to be half of both of them.  

So here are 10CC:

NZ authors rock out

Chad Taylor Swift
Hamish Keith Urban
James George Jones
Raewyn Alexander O’Neal
Alan Duff McKagan
David Elliot Smith
Gaelyn Gordon Lightfoot
Patricia Grace Slick
Stacy Gregg Allman
AK Grant Hart
Bernadette Hall & Oates
Mac Jackson Browne
Sherryl Jordan Luck
Sheridan Keith Flint
Michael King Tubby
John A Lee Brilleaux

Bored now. You get the idea. Off you go. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy birthday, Richard Wagner

Yes, 200 years ago today the great opera composer Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig. The Concert Programme has done him proud this and last week. I’ve had the entire Ring cycle on all week, drowning out the rinse cycle of my children’s laundry. So here is Dick Wagner, the great guitarist for Lou Reed (Rock ’n’ Roll Animal) and Alice Cooper:


And “Sweet Jane” from that live album, with Wagner and Steve Hunter, a duo made in – well, not heaven, but somewhere guitar-friendly:

Mark Amery on Otis Mace

The 61st in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1995 issue.

I used to perform at some of the same venues as Otis – one being (I think) the Performance Café in Symonds Street, where you could see terrible poets but also Lindsay Marks and Don McGlashan in the wonderful Eric Glandy Memorial Big Band. Otis was a revelation – the shy guy I’d met as Richard Lello a few times at a mutual friend’s was transformed once on-stage. I say stage, it was just a small area clear of drunks and stoners. But he was electric. Still is. And I still love his song “Pumpkins Are Actually Rocks”.

The intro read:
That’s not the strangest song you’ll hear from Otis Mace, Guitar Ace. Some of them are much weirder. Mark Amery talks to a man who writes about vampires, a job he had burning books for a library, and building a Kenworth truck out of matches.
New Zealand has its own troubadours, singer-song­writers who seem to have been around forever and turn up out of the blue almost anywhere. They are cult heroes, never chart-toppers, just honest storytellers with their own skewball take on life, who have gathered friends in every pocket of the country.
Otis Mace is one such small-time hero. His seriously warped view of the ordinary things in life has been on offer in any number of bars, cafes, pubs and clubs since punk rock gave him a guitar in the late 70s. A cultural fringe dweller, Mace has collaborated with the likes of poets David Eggleton and Richard Von Sturmer, combining music with storytelling, theatre and art.
A chap with a touch of Elvis Costello to his features (“I’ve had to learn some Costello covers,” he says, “because in pubs people see short guy, glasses, and go, yes”) he totes a guitar and songbook with titles like “Telephone Sex” and “Pumpkins Are Actually Rocks”. This year sees the release of Mace’s first full-length album, a compilation of new material and old favourites titled, with a heavy dose of irony, Quick (Jayrem JAY 344).
Otis Mace the Guitar Ace is above all things a writer, able to hang a few chords onto a story about any conceivable subject. .”It’s good to get away from love songs,” he says. “It’s good to pick some really abstract quality and then in­clude some of that in a song. I really like the idea of having meaningful words in songs, that’s where the attraction lies.
As well as a songwriter I’m a bit of a poet in that I try and make the lyrics stand up on their own. In some recent shows I’ve been setting a little cheesy keyboard going in the background and just reading through some of my songs. It’s just a different approach to delivery.”
Mace has more recently been enjoying incor­porating improvisation into his writing. In 1992 he joined Arthur Baysting. for a songwriting tour of universities, demonstrating a “do-it-yourself” technique where, over an hour, the audience helped write a song. ..
It’s good to take a break from playing things you know to playing things you don’t. It gets the audience involved. You ask them for an idea for a song, a title. It’s a good improvisational technique. You spit out the first thing that comes into your head and use the title in the chorus and make a few improvised chords on the guitar.”
He has kept one improvised song in his song­book — about sheep necrophilia. “It just turned out so funny, so bizarre and bad taste that I had to keep it in my repertoire. Musically it’s not up to much, but it always gets a good response.
Well, when I say always, not with too straight a crowd, it being a delicate New Zea­land topic.”
Mace gives us short stories in cartoon form — a date in Auckland involving a concert by Townes Van Zandt and an unmarked policecar (“She Makes Me Feel Better Than Townes Van Zandt”), a man who builds a Kenworth rig out of matchsticks (“Ten-Four”) or his response to Pynchon’ s Gravity’s Rainbow (“Screaming”).
One of the weirdest things he has written about is a library. “One time, years ago, I had a job in the School Services Library that was mindnumbingly boring, Part of my job was de­stroying books that were deemed un-PC. It just seemed so weird, destroying class sets of books to be mulched up and then the money given to charities, rather than maintaining the books so anyone could use them. So I wrote a song about that called ‘Bibliotech’. That’s a punk jazz type of thing with a biting surrealist protest lyric to it.”
Mace has a story behind every story, the sources as weird as the finished product. His subjects are often culled from the kitsch cultural junk left over from the first TV generation. Gothic horror is one of his more unusual themes. “That was an avenue of songwriting I followed for a while, really enjoying some of the aspects of Z-grade horror movies which I guess are the popularised versions of scary legends from our past histories. The Night Of The Living Liver’, for example, is a gothic semi-comical semi-hor­rific romp through a very dark sinister area.”
One of the most distinctive things about his writing is the dark kooky sense of humour which is performed with an odd deadpan delivery. “I think the possibilities in song are so under-util­ised in mass entertainment that I like to think of myself as a humorist writer, or at least that m bringing a different angle to the idea of the popular song. The public appreciates it — they are fond of the tongue-in-cheek, the offbeat, the skew-whiff, the strange and peculiar.
These days music is being intensely catego­rised, divided up into rigidly divided categories for the purposes of marketing. So I like to cross boundaries and get away from that. To produce something that may on first listen sound like a perfectly normal country and western track but, when you listen to it more carefully, there’s a lot of irony. It’s not satirising or taking the piss out of it, it’s just adding a new dimension.”
If Otis Mace is ever to score on the hit parade it will probably be with Quick’s anthem, “Effort, Money And Time”. Written in collaboration at the beginning of his musical career with Richard Von Sturmer, it’s a catchy, infectious, repetitive pop song (“It saves you effort, money and time/effort, money and time/ It’s so easy/makes you happy...”).
There’s the whole tradition of songwriting that goes right back. Writing a catchy melody, having a good chord structure, simple ideas in the verses, a chorus and a melodic difference as a bridge. That’s the tradition and there are rules there which can be deliberately flaunted.”
Like any good writer, Otis Mace knows the rules and then breaks them. And like many good writers he doesn’t necessarily make a lot of money out of doing it.
As he says hesitantly, not normally one given to making grand statements, “I think you have to follow your path and remain loyal to your own muse. Something like that. I guess.”

Monday, May 20, 2013

What’s going wrong at the NZ Society of Authors? #2

For those interested in the NZ Society of Authors there has been a record number of comments at my original post about “What’s going wrong at the NZSA” and still they come. There have been dozens of emails and Twitter/Facebook messages too, all in support, saying versions of “That’s exactly what I think.”

Correction: almost all comments on the blog have been in support. Jenny Argante wrote on Saturday morning:
Well, Stephen Stratford didn’t get all his facts right (not uncommon, I hear) . . .
I replied 10 minutes later asking her to supply specific examples of inaccuracies. At 10:55 on Monday night I am still waiting. And I wouldn’t mind an explanation of the smear “not uncommon, I hear”.

So here are Television, from their 1977 Marquee Moon album, with “Prove It”:


Friday, May 17, 2013

What I’m reading #98

All those new poetry books from the 70+ brigade. All good.

The Economist on orphan works and how to fleece a photographer.

David Hepworth on how the knees are the mirror of the soul. He also thinks the Stones have been a bit crap since Bill Wyman left. Yes, really.

Wilko Johnson, a QUQ guitar hero,  in the April Uncut on being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer:
When we left the hospital, I felt elated. That’s the word. You never know what your reaction is going to be and at the best of times I’m a miserable so-and-so. I’ve suffered from depression all my life since my teens. So feeling like this was a bit unusual, but this elation remained all day and was still there when I woke up the next day. I realised there’s nothing to be hung up about, because the past, the present, the future: it doesn’t mean anything. So this elevation of spirit remained. You walk down the street just tingling, man, and you feel so alive. You notice every little thing – every bird against the sunlight, everything – and just feel absolute calm. At times it amounted to euphoria.
Eugene Doyle doesn’t enjoy his evening out in Wellington at an oratorio (I’m guessing: a work with orchestra and choir, anyway) about Captain Cook. He’d have been better off reading Graeme Lay’s new novel The Secret Life of James Cook which enters the bestseller list this week at #3.  

David Thompson on deadly biscuits. Apparently these are a problem in England.

More English food as Jeremy Clarke in the Literary Review considers breakfast:
I eat anything. Wipe its bum and chop the horns off, ho ho. I'm not fussy. The average number of taste buds in the average gob is between two and eight thousand. I have about twenty. But when my full English arrived, the mere sight of it turned my stomach. I prodded the bacon rasher with my fork. The factory-bred sow, raised in China in conditions only slightly more cramped, I guessed, than those in which she was served up, tasted, rejected, then thrown in the bin, had lived and died in vain. The flesh was bright0 pink, barely cooked, barely even tepid, and had a fleshy nakedness about it that was faintly obscene. The anaemic egg was a tragic poem. The themes of the poem were artificiality, incompetence, waste and quite possibly blasphemy. The tomato was a product of that strange impulse of the Spanish to export scarce water from the Costa del Sol to northern Europe in spherical, thick-skinned packages force-grown in sterile conditions under polythene. The triangle of fried bread was a saturated sponge, sweating cold grease. The sausage was a budget bag of (at a guess) snouts, intestines, eyelids and hepatitis C.
Via Tim Blair: how to write a novel. This is Joseph Heller’s outline for Catch-22:

If I have done this right you should be able to click on the pic and read the text. If not, go to Tim. It is worth it.

And finally, the Legionaires (Graham Brazier, Dave McArtney, Harry Lyon, Paul Woolrich and Lyn Buchanan so yeah nah, basically Hello Sailor), in May 1983 at Mainstreet with “I’m a Texan” and “No Mystery”. That’s me in the audience, somewhere. They were a great muscular live band: Graham was a bit out of it on the night – fancy! – but good to see Dave again and be reminded how cool Harry was. The clip is introduced by Karyn Hay in mega-80s hair and some sort of clown suit. I still see her and honestly, she hasn’t changed a bit*:

*She has changed a bit, actually. Shame, but there you go.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What’s going wrong at the NZ Society of Authors?

Apologies in advance: what follows is of no interest to anyone who is not a member of the NZ Society of Authors and/or is not interested in watching a car crash. 

This afternoon members received this email urging them to vote in the election to choose a new president:
There is only one week left to vote for the next National President of the NZ Authors!
So far only 13% of our membership have voted. We urge you to get on line and vote – or return your Ballot Paper to PO Box 771, Wellesley Street, Auckland 1141. Exercise your democratic right and vote for the person you want to lead us into the future!
I have asked each nominee to prepare a pitch which was to address the following questions:
The literary sector is undergoing its biggest reformation since the invention of the printing press. This is changing the way books are published and therefore the role of writers. What role do you think NZSA should play in this changing environment?
In these challenging financial times, members are questioning value for money when joining the NZSA. What do you perceive members want from their membership that they are not currently getting and what future ideas and initiatives do you have for improving services to members in the current environment?
The NZSA is facing challenging times in relation to funding and resources. What strategies would you employ to ensure the longevity and fiscal security of the organisation?The NZSA is undergoing a strategic and governance review in 2013. What are the key issues that you feel should be addressed in this review?
Since that email went out, my previous blogpost on this issue, How to Steal an Election, has had almost as many visitors as yesterday’s one about Jesse Mulligan, which is this year’s all-time top-rater. Something is up at the NZSA. I wonder what.

No I don’t. I am in touch with unhappy members from Dunedin to Northland but none of them has an outlet. Well, I do, so here goes. When I joined 20+ years ago in Auckland, the monthly meetings were attended by CK Stead, Maurice Shadbolt, Dick Scott, Daphne de Jong, Kevin Ireland, Graeme Lay – big names, pro writers. It’s not like that now. To be cruel, it’s more for hobbyists than professionals. That’s fine, there’s a place for that, but the rise of the Sunday painters is one reason why the rest of the sector doesn’t take NZSA seriously as a partner any more. As one major publisher said to me last month, “None of my authors are members – so why should publishers treat NZSA as if it represents authors?” I couldn’t answer that.

A discussion is underway about establishing a new organisation that might better represent professional authors, eg the textbook writers who earn the bulk of payments from Copyright Licensing NZ and the many novelists who also regard it as a waste of time; there is another conversation in Auckland about setting up a loose organisation of writers and editors, perhaps designers. None of these people, all professionals in the book trade, feel that the NZSA represents them. I was on the NZSA’s national council for maybe seven years as a branch chair and then vice-president, so I don’t encourage these moves  – but I can see why they are happening.

Add to this the confrontational approach the NZSA takes to the rest of the sector. Most members understandably have no idea about this, or how NZSA is no longer seen as a partner to engage in constructive dialogue but as an adversary. Personally, I find it embarrassing to go into meetings with publishers/funders/etc and be shown letters and emails from NZSA and have to answer a question like “What the hell are they on about?” (“Hell” being a polite substitution.) One member who does know about this, an old leftie from the UK, complains about what he calls “the Scargillite attitude”. If a union has lost the old lefties, it has lost.

And then there is the money. One member who understands the financials better than I do writes:
They are using reserves to fund operations without a plan which is a road to nowhere. If I read it right, there is only $11.3k left of the $30k reserves from six or seven years ago. Reserves should be used for capital purchases or special one-off purchases, not operating costs. Looking at the 2011 P&L there has been an increase in membership fees of $13.5k, decreases in grants of $20k, a decrease in sale of publications of $15.5k and decrease in workshop revenue of $6k. On the expense side an increase in contractors of $6k, bad debts of $13.5k. Over all there was a deficit of $8.7k. Put that together with the drawdown of reserves of $10k for the 2012 year there is a total of $18.7k of reserves gone into operating costs.
Not good. If my friend is right, this is really, really not good. At the AGM in Dunedin the weather will be bracing. Let’s hope there will be some equally bracing questioning about the accounts and the, for want of a better word, culture of the organisation.

So here are Cream in 2005 with “We’re Going Wrong”:

I have had many emails in support about this, comments on Facebook etc. Most people wish to stay anonymous so as not to get offside with NZSA, especially people who hold official positions, but Mary Egan has kindly agreed to let me post her Facebook comment which is representative of what I’m hearing:
I can’t agree more with you Stephen. It has become a joke; an insult to us professionals who want to do the best by authors. It’s become partisan, aggressive, sadly lacking in planning and brings little intelligence to the changes happening in our industry. I remain a member, only just, but that is because I am committed to the idea and not the reality. We have to speak up, loudly. Speaking quietly doesn’t work.
The Otago/Southland branch of NZSA has linked to the post on their Facebook page, and individual authors have tweeted and retweeted the link. We’re going viral. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rita Hayworth + the Bee Gees = Awesome

Via Peta Mathias on Facebook: this is the best clip I have ever seen, a mash-up of scenes of Rita Hayworth dancing in the movies, to the sound of “Stayin’ Alive”. Brilliant. I wonder how many hours went into the editing.

I saw many of her movies on early to mid-60s TV, Sunday Matinee, I think it was, when I was entering adolescence. Formative years, obviously, and I am not sure I have ever got over her, especially in You’ll Never Get Rich and Gilda.

The Wintec Press Club: Jesse Mulligan 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, some people from Metro, other persons of interest such as Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, and me.

After a very funny introduction by Steve Braunias, who teaches part of the Wintec course, Jesse Mulligan spoke for 20 minutes or so about his life and career, a bit about radio and stand-up comedy but mostly about Seven Sharp. This is TVNZ’s replacement for Close Up with Jesse, Alison Mau and some chap I have honestly never heard of. (I am of the same view as Noël Coward, who said that television is for appearing on, not for watching.) Seven Sharp was attacked in the press during the two weeks before the first episode and for many weeks afterwards but seems to be rating OK now.

Steve insists that at these events Chatham House rules apply so nothing that is said can be reported, but I have never paid attention to him before (see my accounts of the lunches starring Paul Holmes, Winston Peters, Michael Laws, Greg King and Robyn Malcolm) and don’t intend to start now.

In his introduction, Steve was very rude about Martyn Bradbury and there was no argument from the audience.

As the main course, Jesse was terrific. He was funny when he wanted to be but was mostly serious about his work and about dealing with criticism, especially from anonymous people on Twitter. He was good too at answering questions from the journalism students, and very open about which aspects of the job/career are hard, and about things he has done – e.g. replying to stupid tweets when tired and cranky – which he could have done better. He was especially interesting about how the MSM uses social media. I am sure the students got much more value from him than they did from the raving egotists Holmes, Peters and Laws.

I was seated between Auckland media mavens Sarah Sandley (magazines) and Caroline Vennell (TV/radio). Both said they thought that Jesse would have a long career because he is good, funny, serious and thoughtful. (What they didn’t say was that he is quite handsome, which can’t hurt either.) But what really impressed the three of us was how he described taking the knocks, admitting mistakes and keeping on so that the next show would be better. 

And then Steve joined us three. He had said in his introduction that when he read Jesse’s first contribution to Metro, a string of one-liners, he had thought, “Wow, she’s really funny.” I said that in the late 80s and early 90s I wrote the jokes in Metro (with James Allan) and when I saw that same piece I knew it was by a bloke and thought, “You bastard. You are better.”

Rubbing salt into the wound, Steve then suggested to Dr Sandley – who is the chair of the Auckland Writers’ Festival board – that Jesse would make a good chair for a session next year. This year’s festival is the first one at which I am neither a chair nor a panellist, so that’s another job of mine he can take over. Face it: he is younger, handsomer and funnier. As Steve says, we should all hate him but we can’t. 

Well, maybe just a bit.

On the way out I got talking with an attractive young blonde, as one does. She ascertained that I was a writer and asked if I would be available for freelance work. “Always,” I said. “Who is the client?”

“The Conservative Party,” she said.

I made my excuses and left.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Poets don’t retire #3

Last month I noted that CK Stead (b. 1932), Kevin Ireland (b. 1933), Peter Bland (b. 1934) and Fleur Adcock (b. 1934) all have new poetry collections out about now. Then last week came a new collection, Us, then, from Vincent O’Sullivan (b. 1937).

Now I learn that Elizabeth Smither (b. 1941) has a new poetry collection out too, The Blue Coat.

Tomorrow’s visit to Unity Books in Auckland will be expensive.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Communication breakdown

I have a problem. My old PC is dying, it won’t let me do back-ups, my new PC is awesome but I can't get old emails/email addresses over from the old to the new – have been using Opera, a non-standard program, and can’t figure out how to copy the old data over. Can’t even find the files. Did it last time I changed PCs but looks impossible now. 

Anyone who would like to stay in touch, please email me - no message necessary, just so I can put you in my new address book. But if your email address is something like, rather than a sensible one like mine, perhaps add in your name so I know who the hell you are.

Thanks in advance, he said hopefully.

So here is Al Green in 1972 with “Let’s Stay Together”:

How to steal an election

In the Spectator of 27 April Lady Thatcher’s biographer (and former Spectator editor) Charles Moore devotes his whole “The Spectator’s Notes” column to her and the book. Here is the second item:
There was also a startling late entry for the book. On the day after Lady Thatcher died, I received an email from Haden Blatch. Mr Blatch’s father, Bertie, was the chairman of the Finchley Conservative Association when it selected her in 1958. I had asked Haden for information before, but he had not got round to it. Now he revealed that his father had come home from the Finchley selection meeting and explained that Mrs Thatcher had not really won the vote. Her rival, Thomas Langton, had just pipped her. Blatch senior, however, was very keen on Mrs Thatcher, and thought that Langton, who ‘was born with a silver spoon in his mouth’, would easily get in somewhere else, whereas she, being a woman with young children, would not. ‘I “lost” two of Langton’s votes,’ he told his son, and he announced her victory. If this is correct, Mrs Thatcher (unknowing) was set on her political career by a fraud. To get this story into the book, I was not allowed any more lines: I had surgically to remove 150 words, and insert 150 new ones.
This story reminds me of an AGM of the NZ Society of Authors twentysomething years ago in Auckland. We elected a new president, and I seem to have been the only person to notice that the new president had been one of the two scrutineers. The other scrutineer was a friend of his. This was fine by me as it was a good result, but perhaps not best practice going forward, as we say these days.

The NZ Society of Authors will have its 2013 AGM in Dunedin next month, at which a new president will be elected. I have every confidence that the Otago-Southland branch, which will host the event, will be on the lookout for Auckland-style sharp practice. I also have every confidence that the members attending will have scrutinised the accounts and ask some questions.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Big bucks for writers

How does $35,000 sound?  Could be yours. All you have to do is present a serious proposal for a serious non-fiction book to Copyright Licensing New Zealand, which hands out the dosh, and you’re away.

If you win, you will be in good company. Previous published winners include Paul Millar (No Fretful Sleeper: a life of Bill Pearson), Lloyd Spencer Davis (Looking for Darwin), Jill Trevelyan (Rita Angus: an artist’s life), Judith Dell Panny (A Plume of Bees: a literary biography of CK Stead), Martin Edmond (The Zone of the Marvellous), Hazel Riseborough (Shear Hard Work) and Peter Wells (The Hungry Heart).

There are two awards available. CLNZ encourages all writers of non-fiction to apply, whether their subject is science, business, Maori and Pacific studies, the arts or, like, whateverYou do have to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and a writer of proven merit.

You also have to deliver: not every winner has done so. I am involved with various trusts, boards and other funding organisations – including CLNZ – and they are losing their patience and beginning to share information. We all understand that projects can fall over despite the best of intentions – but some writers are developing a record of non-delivery. To misquote Lady Bracknell: failing to deliver one project may be regarded as a misfortune; failing to deliver two looks like carelessness.   

But if you are serious, go for it. I would if I could. Applications close on Wednesday 26 June and full details are here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Poets don’t retire #2

Last month I noted that CK Stead (b. 1932), Kevin Ireland (b. 1933), Peter Bland (b. 1934) and Fleur Adcock (b. 1934) all have new poetry collections out about now.

This morning’s post brought a new collection, Us, then by Vincent O’Sullivan (b. 1937). There is also a new collection of short stories on its way: I have read it and think it his best yet.

I rather fear that the 30s-born generation is showing the rest of us up.

Book review of the week

In the Spectator of 27 April Richard Davenport-Hines reviews Death in the Baltic: the World War II sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn J Prince. It’s a positive review but he ends:
The book also has a page of acknowledgments sploshed with outlandish emotional effusions such as ‘Perched upon my soul, you are my laughter and my light.’ Perhaps Americans are sincere when they talk like this, but Europeans only murmur such nonsense when they are young, drunk and trying to wheedle their way into having sex with someone who is feeling tired.