Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sentence of the month

In the new issue of Metro, Paul Litterick ends his review of Why We Build by Rowan Moore:
If you have a daughter who wants to be an architect but you want her to pursue a more respectable profession, give her this book and she will be on the stage in no time.
There is also a review by Vincent O’Sullivan of JM Coetzee’s new novel The Childhood of Jesus. I don’t need to read any more of the mag – I have already had my money’s worth.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Steve Braunias and sensible sentencing

I don’t usually run press releases but this one deserves it:
Wintec Announces New Zealand’s Richest Writing Prize
Wintec in Hamilton is pleased to announce a new and unique writing prize – an award for the highest-paid sentence in New Zealand. Steve Braunias, editor in residence at Wintec’s School of Media Arts, will award $500 to the student who has written the best sentence during the year.
The award will be held annually, and is eligible for all third-year degree students and diploma students of journalism at Wintec. The $500 prize makes it New Zealand’s richest-ever award for a single sentence of writing.
Mr Braunias says he hopes the award will encourage quality writing among the Wintec students. “Every story anyone ever writes is made up of sentences,” he says. “A good sentence really jumps out, and can give the reader a powerful jolt, or move them, make them laugh, make them think, or change the entire direction of their life, possibly.
“It might contain information. It might be illuminating. It might be a beautifully composed piece of language, each word strung up like lanterns. It might be short.
“I will be on the look-out, and have my cheque book ready to award the student who may not be the greatest reporter, or the best interviewer, but who has, for one moment, been inspired to write a line worth $500.”
I have written hundreds of words for the books page of one national Sunday newspaper and not been paid. I have written a book for one celebrated indie publisher and not been paid (this is why I like the multinationals: they pay, and pay fast). So $500 for a sentence, which might consist of only a few words, looks good. This is better than the NZ Post awards, better than the Man Booker, better even than a Creative NZ grant. (Flashback: one lunchtime in the late 70s I performed a half-hour “gig” in the Quad at Auckland University and earned $100. I can’t instantly convert that to 2013 dollars (i.e. can’t be bothered) but it was a massive sum at the time, probably equivalent to the charge-out rate for a senior partner in a law firm. So I figured I had done the right thing by dropping out of law school.

The report of this new award in Wintec’s Waikato Independent was illustrated by a an uncredited photo (above) of Steve Braunias with Winston Peters at a Wintec Press Club luncheon last May. I attended it and described Peter’s performance as guest speaker here. The photo was taken after lunch: I don’t recall a soup fight but from the state of Steve’s shirt there must have been one at some point.

Monday, March 25, 2013

King Harvest has surely come

This is but a sample of the recent output from my capsicum plants. Despite (because of?) the drought, it’s my best-ever harvest ever: loadsa capsica and they are massive. The longest is 17 centimetres (see the ruler), several are 15 centimetres (see the Iris DeMent CD included for size comparison) and that’s not because they are pumped full of water and stuff like the ginormous vegetables you see in a US supermarket. The only performance-enhancing drug they have taken is fund-raising worm wee from the children’s school. Tomorrow afternoon I shall make red-pepper jelly.

Elsewhere in the garden there are passionfruit (wonderful), blueberries (pretty good), grapes (totally unsatisfactory), raspberries (awesome), chillies (can’t go wrong with Serrano and bird’s-eye) plus the usual staples. My wife was for once impressed when I made her lunch yesterday, spring rolls with Vietnamese mint and Thai basil from the garden. Home-made nuoc cham, obviously.

So here is the Band in Tokyo in 1983 with “King Harvest (has surely come)” from their second album, austerely titled The Band. No Robbie Robertson – this is the later version of the band with the Cate Brothers (that’s Earl Cate on guitar).  There is a great DVD of this incarnation, The Band is Back, recorded in Vancouver that year. Richard Manuel, lead vocals on this song, hanged himself three years later. He was only 42.

Adventures in the book trade #6

Last Thursday Stuff ran a story on a campaign by Booksellers NZ to close the loophole whereby New Zealand consumers can order books from Amazon and the Book Depository and not have to pay GST, which means that the government loses tax revenue and bookshops lose sales. (The full story from Booksellers NZ is here; the same is true of CDs, DVDs, sporting equipment, car parts etc.)

By this morning there were 108 comments, almost all of them saying essentially that booksellers can get stuffed and that Amazon and the Book Depository are the way to go. For example:
If they cant compete then they should just close. Small stores are doing fine, sourcing their own stuff. Its just the big chains that manage to sell things for 4x the amazon or book depositary price even when on “sale” that are complaining. And you know what? Good riddance to them. Useless.
And this:
Retailers should use their wholesale buying power and economy bulk shipping rates to sell items in this country at a competitive rate. If they can’t beat the cost of a consumer buying a book overseas at a retail price and paying shipping and handling for each item, they are doing it wrong.
But booksellers don’t set prices, publishers do. The bookseller is simply the public face of the book trade. We all know our local bookseller but who can name the local CEOs of the big four (soon to be three) multinationals? This is why booksellers cop the flak: they are visible.

But the local publishers don’t have a lot of freedom either. There is some flexibility in the system – it has happened that the NZ retail price is lower than the international one – but they have to buy in their stock at whatever price head office charges them, so the retail price in New Zealand is set by people in England or Australia. They are the ones responsible for, say, Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel Inferno selling here for $50 (14 May is the world-wide release date: you’ll just have to be patient) when you can pre-order it now from the Book Depository for $30. That price differential has nothing to do with our booksellers – they are unhappy about it too. As one told me, “The real gouging of New Zealand book-buyers is going on in London.”

And here are some actual NZ booksellers, talking to actual NZ authors.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

In praise of: Barbara Anderson

The 58th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1993 issue. Nigel Cox interviews Barbara Anderson, who died this morning, aged 87. She was a wonderful woman and a wonderful writer of short stories and novels: there was also an autobiography. One of the great pleasures for me as literary editor of Metro in the late 80s/early 90s was that I got to publish her. So here is Nigel Cox interviewing her 20 years ago.

The intro read:
Before becoming a prize-winning writer, Barbara Anderson was a naval wife, which could make readers of her new novel All The Nice Girls wonder if perhaps it mightn’t be a little bit autobiographical. “Well, yes,” she tells Nigel Cox, “there’s that marvellous phrase of Margaret Atwood’s, where she says she likes to know the furniture of what she’s writing about. And certainly I know the furniture of being a naval wife...”
“The bit in the book when the ship comes home, for example, I can remem­ber that particular feeling when the men have been away for a long time, the ex­citement on the wharf, so to that extent, yes — but none of the characters is based on anyone. You pinch bits here and there, and make them up.”
Reading Anderson is like being in the company of a brilliant talker, a phrase­maker. Listening to her you get that same voice, worldly, wry, precise, amused. She’s that rare thing, a writer who can talk well about what she does. A particu­lar feature of her conversational style is the ability instantly to summon com­ments by other writers, like the reference to Atwood above.
“I like what Hemingway said,” she says, “when someone asked him what was the hardest thing about writing he said, ‘find­ing the right words’.” When asked if she writes in longhand she says, “Yes. I agree with that thing Nabokov says — the hand supports the thought.” The sense you get is that these distillations are part of the furniture in Anderson’s head, where they guide her and keep her company.
All The Nice Girls [reviewed on page 32] describes a culture where women sup­port their husbands by keeping the devil from finding their hands idle, and An­derson, who’s been a late starter as a writer, seems to have kept hers full of books and reading. Storing it all up.
She was born in Hawke’s Bay in 1926, completed a science degree at Otago and, 30 years later, an arts degree at Victoria. In earlier incarnations she’s been a school teacher and a laboratory techni­cian, as well as being married to the navy. Now it’s her husband who supports her by typing her manuscripts up and, she says, acting as her toughest critic.
One of the other partnerships Barbara Anderson shares with her husband is the world of sound. She is partially deaf and he often has to catch a word for her, which is a surprise when you think of her remarkable ear for dialogue. Her other strength is her marvellous command of character. So, when she’s at work, is she mainly focused on her people, or on the language?
“Both, I think. I like to try to create people who seem rounded, and yet to take pleasure in the words. When I’m reading I like it when an author can make the words sit up and beg. Janet Frame, for example, where you get that delight in unexpected phrases. But I also very much like the way that the Victorian women novelists, and those who preceded them, give you a fully rounded character that you feel you know.”
She pauses. “I don’t see how you could try to write unless you read a lot of writers you admire.”
So whom does she admire? Barthelme is a name that she gives without hesitation, but then the conversation begins, in the happiest sense of the word, to degener­ate  Listening to her, it’s impossible not to wonder whether, now that she’s got four books under her belt, writing comes as effortlessly as talking about other writ­ers.
“Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, that’s the sort of writing I like. That bit in More Die Of Heartbreak, where Mrs Layamon was talking about how the wedding boutique had ‘screwed up the dessert sets’, and in that one phrase you get the whole thing of what the woman’s like — she’s getting married again and her main interest is in how the dessert sets are screwed up. That juxtaposition of slanginess and meticu­lously chosen words, that’s making words work. Wonderful book.
“But no, it doesn’t get any easier. I think you become more conscious of the process, so that instead of just writing you’re sort of watching yourself do it. I do so agree with Virginia Woolf where she says the most difficult thing about writ­ing is getting your character from one room to the other. It’s so difficult. What are you going to say — she hopped, she moved, she crawled? You get sick of it, you just want to tip them through the wall without having to go into it. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it gets any easier.”
This time, she says, she wanted to write about “authority and acceptance, or the non-acceptance of it. How you can tod­dle along your apparently predestined path and then like one of the characters in the new book, think, as in Rupert Brooke’s poem: ‘Fish say they have their Stream and Pond/ But is there anything Beyond?/ This life cannot be All, they swear/ For how unpleasant if it were’.”
She wanted to set the novel in the “pre-feminist early 60s, a long time ago now, but I hope that people will recog­nise the sort of vicarious lives that I think a lot of women used to live in those days. It’s a smaller canvas than Portrait, but you get to know the main character quite well, I think, and see her coming to terms with being a naval wife.
“ I read a thing in the Malaysian Times, oh, years ago, that I kept, and this woman was saying then, ‘What is femininity, what is masculinity? Anything that de­prives a person of their full development is a bad thing.’ I mean, I’m all for people living vicariously if that’s what they want to do, but...”
The stories in her first book, I Think We Should Go Into The Jungle, saw her being compared with Flaubert, a com­parison which was reconsidered in the Guardian recently as “not seeming sense­lessly extravagant... this must be the sharpest collection in English since Ray­mond Carver’s Cathedral”.
Her first novel, Girl’s High, had the London Sunday Times describing her as “a born writer” and, on the strength of Portrait, announcing that “it now seems only a matter of time before Wellington replaces New York as the literary capital of the world”. Roll on.
But this admiration has been less read­ily forthcoming at home. When Portrait became the first novel by a woman to win the Wattie (Other Halves was first equal), critic Andrew Mason announced on Sunday Supplement that this was “an ex­traordinary decision” which over-praised an “enjoyable but forgettable” novel.
Sue McCauley’s Listener review said, “It may be art but it’s not a square meal”. Other reviewers were niggardly, and the book wasn’t even shortlisted for last year’s NZ Book Awards. Why could this be?
“Well, I would be the last to know, wouldn’t I,” says Anderson. “What they liked in the UK and what the man at Norton’s in America liked, was what they called the economy, the freshness. Perhaps we’re more used to that type of writing here.”
Personally I’d be surprised if we’ve had a surfeit of writing as stylish and engaging as Anderson’s.
It will be interesting to see how All The Nice Girls fares here, as it’s appearing almost a year before it comes out in Eng­land, this time under that most prestig­ious of imprints, Jonathan Cape. I suspect that the time when we will rec­ognise this superb storyteller has arrived.

Paula Morris interviews Barbara for the Listener in 2008.

Damien Wilkins interviews Barbara for Sport 36: Winter 2008.

Victoria University Press remembers her this way.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An awkward NZ Book Month moment

As advertised here I went to Hamilton Library on Tuesday evening to appear on a panel for a NZ Book Month event, discussing book reviews. Carole Beu was a no-show, sadly, so the panel was me and Kate de Goldi plus local writers and reviewers Peter Dornauf and Gail Pittaway. There were 25 people in the audience, which isn’t bad for these events.

It all went well. Kate is brilliant, of course, and Peter and Gail had good stories about their experiences as reviewer and reviewed. I told my story about reviewing live on national TV a book I had never seen until 30 seconds  before the cameras rolled. This was for Good Morning with Mary Lambie, 10 or so years ago. I was expecting the new collection of Owen Marshall short stories from Random House so had read it twice and prepared some clever-sounding things to say. But as the sound guy was putting the mike on me I noticed on the coffee table where the books were laid out one I had never seen before. It was an anthology of NZ short stories Owen had edited for Random House. Same author, same publisher, totally different book.

On live TV one mustn’t panic. I had 20 seconds to skim the contents page. Fortunately I recognised most of the titles. The red light on the camera went on, and we were live. Apparently I was just as plausible reviewing this hitherto unseen book as I had ever been reviewing ones I had read and thought about. This was not entirely reassuring.

It was all very jolly until Gail, who was chairing, asked us about the books we were currently reading. This was the awkward moment: I had to be honest and say that apart from a two-week burst in January I don’t read books. During the day I edit books and I assess manuscripts for authors and publishers. Non-fiction is OK but with a novel I need to keep it all in my head so when I get to page 157 I recall what happened on page 3. Can’t do that if I’m reading another novel, or even a biography.

Because Kate had mentioned a novel set in Wellington’s Happy Valley, I used the example of a novel I recently edited for VUP, Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan. I said that I found it very funny even on the third reading, but its plot was more complicated than War and Peace so when editing it there was no way I could read anything more challenging than the letters pages of the Waikato Times.

During question time one member of the audience asked for the novel’s title again and how to spell the author’s name; several others wrote all this information down. I said that the book wouldn’t be out until July but she said, “I can wait.”  I think that book will be OK. 

Waikato Times letter of the month: runner-up

Another drought-related letter, this time blaming gay marriage rather than PKE, as the winner did. From yesterday’s issue, 21 March:
God and the drought
I have a thought about the drought in this country, which affects our country at its grass roots.
Perhaps a contributing factor is the new marriage law proposed in Parliament.
The marriage between one man and one woman is foundational to the law of the universe.
If what I say causes anger and hatred to rise up in anyone, who incidentally is fearfully and wonderfully made, then perhaps they need to look at the root of their bitterness rather than violently impose their ideas on the rest of creation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The AUP anthology of NZ literature #8

Monash University’s department of Art, Design and Architecture, in partnership with the State Library of Victoria, has this year instituted an award for the Most Beautiful Book Australia and New Zealand (MBBANZ). The winners were announced today – there are 11 and naturally 10 of them are from Australia. The one from New Zealand is… step forward, the AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature and designer Katrina Duncan.

Building a better Ulysses

Ever wondered how Ulysses would have turned out if James Joyce had attended a creative writing workshop? Teddy Wayne suggests at McSweeney’s some possible responses from Joyce’s fellow students. Here is a sample:
Truly felt I got to know Leopold (Poldy?). Nitpicky, logistical question: Is this really how people think?
“Snotgreen” = hyphenated.
Show us how these characters process memory, language, abstractions, and the urban landscape through stream of consciousness, don’t just tell us.
Unclear where and when this is set.
Caught some allusions to The Odyssey. Nice.
Proper punctuation for dialogue is double quotes, not em dashes.
Balked a bit at some of Molly’s “sexier” thoughts, which read like male fantasy. You can do better than this, Jim.
Think you accidentally stapled in something from your playwriting workshop for Ch. 15.
Kick-ass work, JJ, but way too long. Have you considered turning this into a short-short?
There are loads more.

Monitor: Bill Manhire

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waikato Times letter of the month

The skinny: we’ve had a drought over the whole country because farmers use PKE as a stock-feed supplement, which causes climate change. And something about chocolate. I have passed this on to a friend’s colleagues at AgResearch in Ruakura as the connection probably hadn’t occurred to them. 
PKE part of drought loop
Last month New Zealand imported thousands of tons of palm kernel expeller (PKE) as a supplementary feed for dairy cows. PKE comes from the African Oil Palm tree and is a byproduct of the oil extraction from the palm kernels; while the higher-quality palm oil is extracted from the fruit. Oil palms are replacing rainforests at an alarming rate thus exacerbating the effects of climate change which led to the drought. In 2009 Cadbury bowed to consumer pressure and stopped using palm oil. Perhaps it would be in the interests of our dairy industry to be proactive on this matter?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I go to the Tron

Creeping like a snail unwillingly to school, I go to Hamilton tonight to appear on a NZ Book Month panel discussing book reviewing, alongside Kate de Goldi and Carole Beu (of the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby). I doubt I’ll get a word in. 

The organisers offered me a choice of payment: petrol vouchers or a bottle of wine. I said, “You don’t know me very well, do you.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What I’m reading #95

As always, David Thompson’s Friday Ephemera. In the comments on Nutella:
There’s the German verb “Fremdschämen”, which essentially means feeling shame and embarrassment for other people as if being in their place by oneself, but merely by watching them. It fits very well here.
How good – and how German – to have a word for that.

Alexander Chancellor is one of my journalism heroes. He was editor of the Spectator when I started reading it; he writes wonderfully; he is my friend Clara’s uncle; he indirectly offered me a job once; he was a good friend of another journalism hero, Auberon Waugh; and he is back at the Spectator as a columnist. All admirable – but OMG he is unsound on eggs:
I did not know, until my sister told me recently, that you could throw a raw egg as high as you wanted into the air, and provided it fell on grass, it would not break. I have since found that I have been far from alone in this particular bit of ignorance, and I advise anyone who still shares it to give it a try, for you can hardly believe that the egg isn’t going to break, yet it never does. It will also make a great impression on children, as well as on the more childish of adults.
So I tried it. Tossed an egg – free-range, locally sourced from the donkey farm at the end of our road – up in the air. It landed on the grass. And it splattered. Never believe what you read in the press, not even the Spectator.

The New Republic interviews Clive James. Quote unquote:
Well, my role as a critic is coming to an end. But the older I get, I become more convinced the thing a critic should do is point toward the things he or she admires, for the benefit of the next generation. I’d like to be able to go back and add things where I thought I was insufficiently attentive to the qualities of a work of art. I’d be less interested now in attacking. Only be hostile in defence of a value.
Kevin Jackson in the Literary Review reviews – well, obviously – Extreme Metaphors: interviews with JG Ballard. Quote unquote:
That’s what my fiction is all about: people following their obsessions and their private mythologies to the end, whatever the cost. That way they find fulfilment. I’ve a hunch that’s how the mind works. It’s as close as people can come to happiness. Try it.
How to buy a New Zealand bookshop. There are a few for sale right now.

Cactus Kate does product placement. Quote unquote:
I do not know much about the science of any of the product, do not care about whether it is tested on animals, vegetables or the French.
Which brings us to the best headline in the world ever:
Australian Man Fights Cactus, Cactus Wins
I’d put money on her against anyone. But as Vincent O’Sullivan’s 2011 poetry collection hints, the movie may be slightly different. This one of the incident in question shows an Australian idiot. But I repeat myself.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Phrase of the day

Christopher Howse in the Spectator (where else?) reviews Ware’s Dictionary of Slang and Phrase, by J Redding Ware, published by the Bodleian Library, no less:
Ware, born in 1832, served time for threatening his father, a Southwark cheesemonger, with a bacon-knife. Sinking into magazine journalism . . .  

In praise of: multinationals

Nick Cohen writes in the Spectator about how Verso, a left-wing publisher whose authors include himself and Christopher Hitchens, has turned against Hitchens now that he is safely dead and cannot reply. Quote unquote:
While I had the Verso PR woman on the line, I remembered that it had published my own book Cruel Britannia in 2000.
‘I can’t remember the last time I saw a royalty statement,’ I said.
‘Ah well, we have been upgrading our royalty department for a couple of years,’ she replied.
Years, I thought. It takes years for a small publisher to ‘upgrade’?
‘I want any money I am owed now,’ I said, and hung up.
The only time I have been ripped off over royalties was by a small independent publisher whom everyone (other than unpaid authors) thought was marvellous. The multinationals and academic houses, on the other hand, have been exemplary. As they are with their editors. Last month I submitted a four-figure invoice to one of the Big Four on a Monday and the money was in my bank account that Friday. Freelancing doesn’t get any better than that.

Monitor: David Cohen (no relation)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The AUP anthology of NZ literature #7

Previous entries in this series here. And now Chris Else has a long – 2000 words or so – and typically thoughtful review in the latest issue of New Zealand Books. Not online yet (but it will be one day here) so I can’t link to it. Go and buy a copy. It is worth $10.50 of anyone’s money.

The review doubles as an article about anthologies, anthologising, and the social dynamics of our literary culture. It also covers warm butter, footballers sans shorts, and the scales in the Countdown fruit and veg department. Talk about wide-ranging. Talk about well-written.

It is too subtle a piece to summarise but I recommend it to anyone interested in this book or the New Zealand literary scene in general. It’s also amusing. Quote unquote on the literary elite:
Not all members are writers: publishers, reviewers, critics, friends, relatives and persons of no great judgement who have nevertheless managed to acquire an air of cultural authority all play their part.
We can all think of examples of the persons of no great judgement. I instantly thought of two septuagenarians, who would have instantly thought of me. 

Like most other reviewers Chris lists authors not included whom readers may feel had a claim: he suggests that they were not considered but I think it more likely that they were considered then rejected for whatever reason. All reviewers have offered their own lists but they largely overlap (I seem to be the only one rooting for Dick Scott, which baffles me). What struck me considering Chris’s list was something I was vaguely aware of but the thought had not come into focus until now. 

The book has a shocking anti-Yorkshire bias. The subtext is that the only good Yorkshireman is a dead Yorkshireman. Captain Cook is in, but living Yorkshire-born NZ authors Peter Bland, Russell Haley, Philip Temple and Chris Else himself are all out. Perhaps the editors are Lancastrian. I think we should be told.

This will probably be the last in this series on the anthology. I’m moving on to other things, not hanging about here waiting for the NZ Woman’s Weekly review.

This gets worse. A reader advises that another Yorkshire-born author with a claim was excluded: Phillip Mann. That’s five out of five. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The AUP anthology of NZ literature #6

Previous entries in this series here. Lawrence Jones has now reviewed the anthology in Landfall, online amazingly here.

The review is thoroughly thorough, so thoroughly thorough that it is almost as long as the book. Very Borgesian, that (or Steven Wrightian: Wright has a joke about a 1:1-scale map of the world). However, being by Lawrence, it is also very good. Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Otago, he is a specialist in New Zealand literature and knows the territory as well as anyone. He also reviews the reviewers, including me, so this is an overview of reactions to the book as well as a thoughtful, informed review of the thing itself. Quote unquote:
In some ways the AUP anthology could be discussed as many rugby matches are, as a game of two halves.  In the first ‘half’, the 600 pages of texts covering from 1769 to 1969, there is the sense of a balanced and at the same time imaginative choice and arrangement of texts that gives a clear sense of the shape of New Zealand literary history while at the same time opening up a fresh sense of relationships by the juxtaposition of texts.  In the second ‘half’, the 450 pages of texts covering 1970 to 2011, there are some brilliant episodes in the juxtaposition of texts but the general sense of the shape and balance of the whole is lost.
Coming attractions: Chris Else’s review in the latest issue of New Zealand Books.

Universities and copyright

Copyright Licensing NZ has announced it is taking the universities to the Copyright Tribunal because it has been unable to agree terms for a new set of licences which would allow them to include print-based copyright material in their course packs for 2013 and succeeding years. This means, in essence, that if the licences are in place writers and publishers will be paid for the use of their work. If the licences are not in place, we won’t.

Apart from the legal and ethical side, there is a lot of money at stake. Copyright Licensing receives some $5 million a year from licensing revenue, which comes from schools and other institutions besides the universities (some also comes from overseas as CLNZ has reciprocal deals with other licensing organisations around the world). That money is distributed to writers and publishers here so that we can  keep on writing and publishing. It can be a battle trying to explain the point of this to students and teachers, many of whom regard the library as like Pirate Bay for books.  

There is a press release from Copyright Licensing about the case here. Quote unquote:
Many universities have been increasing their fees by the maximum allowable annually. They then also charge students to receive each individual course pack. Students will generally require several course packs in one year and fees charged per pack are significant – up to $85 in some cases. At the same time the universities are paying just $20 per student per year to use the published works that those courses are based on.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Crowdsourcing crime

A friend of a friend in Oz is writing something academic about indigenous crime fiction – both the authors and the cops in the novels – and has asked for information about Maori writers/cops. On my list I have Alan Duff as crime writer – I’d classify One Night Out Stealing as a crime novel, and maybe the whole Once Were Warriors sequence – and also the Maori cops in Paul Thomas and Gaelyn Gordon.

Paddy Richardson tells me that Valerie Grayland, a writer from the 60s I had never heard of, had a detective called Hoani Mata. So, probably Maori.

Does anyone know of any other Maori writers or police characters who fit the bill? There is no reward offered apart from the eternal gratitude of my friend’s friend.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Allen Curnow and evolutionary biology

The famous last words of Allen Curnow’s 1943 poem “The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch” are:
Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
Will learn the trick of standing upright here.
The Economist reports on new developments in evolutionary biology, specifically the question of why our primate ancestors did learn the trick of standing upright. What was, in management-speak, the key driver going forward? Quote unquote:
Africa’s great grasslands are one of that continent’s most famous features. They are also reckoned by many to have been crucial to human evolution. This school of thought holds that people walk upright because their ancestors could thus see farther on an open plain. Forest primates do not need to be bipedal, the argument continues, because the trees limit their vision anyway.
Sarah Feakins, of the University of Southern California, says it ain’t necessarily so.

Digital native

This is my elder daughter last night, completing her census return online.

It’s not how we did it when I was a kid.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In praise of: Nicky Pellegrino

It is census night here in New Zealand so what better time to consider the top 20 New Zealand fiction titles borrowed from Auckland public library system last year:
1. The Forrests
Emily Perkins
2. The villa girls
Nicky Pellegrino
3. The conductor
Sarah Quigley
Jenny Pattrick
Sarah-Kate Lynch
Nalini Singh
Nicky Pellegrino
Nicky Pellegrino
Nicky Pellegrino
Lloyd Jones
Nalini Singh
Stephanie Johnson
Paul Thomas
Nalini Singh
Danielle Hawkins
Jenny Pattrick
Nalini Singh
Vanda Symon
Lloyd Jones
Owen Marshall

Not only does Nicky Pellegrino have four titles in the top 10 of this list of most-borrowed books from Auckland libraries for 2012, but also her books sell like hotcakes. Ask any bookseller. 

She must be one of New Zealand’s most biggest best-selling authors ever. But she has never registered in the top 10 bestseller lists of NZ books published every Friday by Booksellers NZ because her books are published overseas and what we get are imported editions. So she is not considered a New Zealand author even though she lives here and all her novels were written here. I have pointed out the folly of this strange criterion to the good people at Booksellers NZ – and also to the CEO, Lincoln Gould – but to no avail. 

It’s not just Nicky. Yesterday Craig Ranapia tweeted:
Last person who said “I never read New Zealand literature” to me, had just finished gushing about Paul Cleave. Bless.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Concerning the ubiquity of Stephen Fry

Can I stand Stephen Fry? No I cannot, as reported here earlier. It seems I am not alone. Stephen Pollard writes in the Daily Telegraph of the ever-presentness of Fry that:
Somehow, he has morphed from jobbing comedian and actor to a guru whose wit, wisdom and all-round general cleverness we are supposed to adore and admire in equal measure. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t. [. . .]
Over the two weeks of the Christmas break it was calculated that Mr Fry was on our screens in 189 TV programmes, including more QI repeats than you would have thought could possibly exist.
Even if he were Oscar Wilde, Isaiah Berlin and PG Wodehouse rolled into one, you might easily tire of him over 10 programmes in a fortnight, let alone 189. Well, he isn’t. And we certainly did.
So here is Chris Rea with “The Road to Hell”, live in 1989:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The most terrifying email ever

Yesterday it arrived silently, as they do. It was from a female author, as they often are. It mentioned that she had recently had coffee (a likely story) with a mutual friend of ours, another female author. And then came the phrase every man dreads: “We gossiped about you.” 

I didn’t sleep very well last night.