Sunday, November 21, 2010

The unforgiving sea

Kim Knight - Sunday Star Times - 21/11/2010
Photo by Lawrence Smith  - Witi Ihimaera says the rigour he's had to apply due to The Trowenna Sea controversy boosts his coming work.

A year after scandal engulfed author Witi Ihimaera he talks, for the first time, to Kim Knight, about life after he was labelled a plagiarist.

Every four weeks or so, Witi Ihimaera drives to a storage unit in Ponsonby, Auckland.
The country's first Maori novelist, the author of international phenomenon The Whale Rider, and one of five 2009 Arts Foundation Laureates, opens the door and contemplates the unit's contents.
Books. Some 1800 copies of The Trowenna Sea – the novels Ihimaera bought back when they became the subject of a literary plagiarism scandal.
"I can't destroy them. I can't do anything, because I'm still proud of them."
He laughs a little bit, and adopts a fatherly tone: "No matter what happened, I still love you. And I'll see you next month."

It's exactly a year since Listener reviewer Jolisa Gracewood detected similarities between 16 passages in The Trowenna Sea and existing work by other writers.
As more uncredited copying was uncovered, Ihimaera accepted his $50,000 Laureate prize.
Auckland University was heavily criticised for not sacking its professor of English and creative writing. Wellington writer Vincent O'Sullivan stressed he wasn't directly referring to Ihimaera – but likened literary plagiarists to sporting drug cheats.
"All these weather fronts were coming in from all these directions," says Ihimaera.

He remembered the farm up Whakarau Rd on the North Island's East Coast. "I'd go out with my father, scrub cutting, or shifting sheep or cattle, and if the weather was clamping down, all he'd say to me was, `oh son, we better find a place to shelter'." Father and son would watch the storm come and go. "And then he'd say, `well, it's over'."

This past week, Ihimaera gave the Sunday Star-Times a lift to the beach. He unlaced his black leather shoes, rolled his jeans to mid-calf, paddled the silty shores of St Heliers and spoke fully, for the first time, about life after being labelled a plagiarist.
"My family doesn't do guilt. What we do is acknowledge, we apologise, we try to fix – and it cost me a lot of money to fix that one up.
"I bought all the remaining copies. The book was never withdrawn from sale. I was never taken to court over it. And frankly, nobody died."

Ihimaera is moving on. On Thursday night, the arterati gathered in Auckland's Town Hall for the launch of next year's Auckland Arts Festival programme.
The programme includes the major concert commission Ihimaera. Next March, contemporary Kiwi recording artists – from Che Fu to SJD – will perform songs inspired by new lyrics written by Ihimaera. Produced by Charlotte Yates, creator of the similar Baxter and Tuwhare projects, the live show will follow the February release of a CD.

Kim Knight's full story, it runs to much of a page in the Sunday Star Times, can be read online at
It is especially interesting as this is the first time that the author has spoken about the problems with The Trowenna Sea.

The Ihimaera story is one of several major book stories in the SST today with some five and a half pages being given over to author interviews, back grounders and book reviews.
Hats off to Books Editor Mark Broatch.

Other stories include an interview with the immensely likeable Kevin McCloud of television's Grand Designs fame and a review of his book, 43 Principles of Home:Enjoying Life in the twenty-first century -Harper Collins; Mark Broatch's interview with Jim Flynn about his new book, The Torchlight List; successful chick lit author Michelle Holman talks to Megan Nicol Reed; Nicholas Reid is impressed by the definitive new collection of Frank Sargeson's short stories; and there are reviews of  An Idiot Abroad, Trade Me - The Inside Story, and Bad Karma.
Book lovers should all read the Sunday Star Times.


Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by your references to NZ book reviews in the Sunday Star Times and went looking...
I couldn't find the reviews on any of the links next to the story about Witi Ihimaera so I tried Entertainment. I got very tired of trolling through enigmatic headlines which turned out to be about film or whatever instead of the books/authors I was interested in.
I'd love to subscribe to their 'Books" menu because I'm interested in NZ literature - but where is it?
Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers, Melbourne Australia

Bookman Beattie said...

Sadly the Sunday Star Times do not normally post their book reviews on their website until a week or two after they are published, sometimes they never get posted.
This contrasts with almost every other newspaper in the world. It is an excellent broadsheet newspaper but in this respect they sure as hell are living in the past! It means of course that those living outside their circulation area, and that is everyone who lives outside NZ of course, is prevented from reading this material.

Anonymous said...

Well then, Mr B, that makes me even more grateful that you are blogging the NZ literary scene!

keri said...

O, "bought up the warehouse contents' eh?

And will fully annotate a later edition, eh?

Paid from own pocket, eh?

Yeah, right.

Jacqui Dimes said...

Thank you for the good laugh Keri H.

Totally agree.

Per H. said...

I commented on your blog a few years back, with regard to a post about Jhumpa Lahiri. At the time, I was a postgraduate student of Australian literature at the University of Western Australia. In the intervening years, I have dropped in and checked on your blog every now and again, and I have also secured a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of English at a state university in the good ol' USA. I came back to your blog most recently because I am working on an independent study with an undergraduate student who is doing some comparative work between Australian and New Zealand indigenous literatures. I thought there might be some interesting comparisons to be made between Kim Scott's (Australian) "That Deadman Dance" and Witi Ihimaera's (New Zealand, obviously) "The Trowenna Sea". I'm not at all interested in the plagiarism controversy; instead, what interests me is that both books are by indigenous writers, were published in the last couple years, and explore stories associated with the founding of their respective nations. But I can't get my hands on a copy of "The Trowenna Sea" to pursue this interest any further. Any suggestions?

Bookman Beattie said...

Per H if you can let me have a postal address I may be able to get a copy to you.
Happy New Year,

Per H. said...

That would be amazing! My postal address is 1547 Strongs Ave., Apt. 1, Stevens Point, WI 54481. If you e-mail your bank details to me (phenningsgaard at yahoo dot com), I can transfer some money to you from my surviving Australian bank account. After all, you deserve to be compensated for the book and postage, not to mention your kindness.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for a second copy of the book. One copy is good, but I would like to have two (one for me, and one for my student). But thanks so much for your help! I really, really appreciate it! And now that I've got your blog flowing to my Google RSS feed, I'll be sure to keep in better touch!