Friday, October 31, 2008

Imlah leads TS Eliot prize shortlist
Mick Imlah's first collection for 20 years is the favourite to win this year's TS Eliot prize for poetry
Alison Flood writing in,
Thursday October 30 2008

Mick Imlah is the bookies' favourite to add the TS Eliot prize for poetry to the Forward prize he won earlier this month, after his first collection for 20 years made the shortlist for Britain's richest poetry award. If he were to fulfil Ladbrokes's prediction, he would be only the second poet to pull off this "double" and win both of Britain's top poetry awards, following Sean O'Brien's sweep with The Drowned Book last year.
Imlah's The Lost Leader, which portrays Scottish culture from classical mythology to a Dumfries bus depot, is in the running for the £15,000 prize alongside nine other poetry collections. Imlah was the unanimous choice for the £10,000 Forward prize judges, who described his collection as "quite brilliant".
Read Alison Flood's full piece here.
A bookshop in a shopping mall? My word
By Alex Clark writing in The The Telegraph 31/10/2008

The renowned independent bookshop Foyles is evidently treating with some scepticism rumours of the demise of the book. ­At least, that's the message I took from the fact that yesterday, when the vast new London shopping centre Westfield threw open its doors, the company had staked a claim to 12,000 square feet of retail space over two floors - a space it plans to fill with 35,000 titles.
No doubt Foyles has made some provision in its business plans for the rise of the e-book, but this is surely a statement of intent: the printed word, it implies, is going nowhere fast. Besides, in these straitened times, books represent pretty good value for money.

In America, however, they're looking forward, and a rumbling legal dispute over the digitisation of the printed word has gone some way to settling itself. Google, which has digitised seven million books as part of the Google Book Search and has a further 20 million in its sights, came to an arrangement this week with the Authors Guild and US publishers regarding possible future infringements of copyright. The online behemoth has found a spare $125,000 in its pockets to compensate those who might have found grounds to object to their work's unhindered transmission.
Those on the side of the writers proclaim themselves delighted at a "win-win" outcome. Google doesn't seem concerned either, for it will easily recoup the money by offering subscriptions to its online material to libraries - invaluable material that will include untold numbers of out-of-print books.
Read the full piece here.

Photo by Victoria Birkenshaw © 2008

The Love School is the first non-fiction collection from Elizabeth Knox, writer of such award-winning books as The Vintner’s luck, Dreamhunter and Dreamquake, which have seen her carry off a host of international awards. It collects twenty years of her essays and non-fiction work.
Come and hear Knox talk and reflect on her life as a writer with Auckland poet and children’s writer Paula Green. All attendees will be given the
chance to purchase a pre-released copy of The Love School.

: Auckland Art Gallery – New Gallery,corner Lorne & Wellesley Street
When: Sunday 2 November, 12.00 – 1.00pm
Free event


Check her out on the Laureate website, it is well worth a look.
Saturday Morning with Kim Hill: 1 November 2008

The major interview with Margaret Mahy will be a highlight for book lovers tomorrow morning on Kim's Radio New Zealand National programme. Don't miss it.

11:15am Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy has been writing poems, stories picture books and novels
for more than forty years. A member of the Order of New Zealand, an
Honorary Doctorate of Letters and twice winner of Britain's Carnegie
Medal for Children's Literature, she has also been honoured by the Arts
Foundation of New Zealand as a Living Icon, received the Prime
Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction, and been awarded
the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her contribution to children's

Her new young adult novel, The Magician of Hoad
(HarperCollins) is an epic tale of love and treachery.

This is a long and important interview.

Readers of this blog will probably also appreciate the Nick Pearson
8:12am - Nicholas Pearson: chimps and typewriters
the frivolous (but very funny) Cheeta "autobio" is the
hook, but most of the interview will be about Fourth Estate and how he sees
the future of book publishing.

The Rocky Shore
Jenny Bornholdt - VUP - $25.00

Jenny Bornholdt's new book, The Rocky Shore, is a collection of long(ish) poems, and was launched at the wonderful Unity Books, Wellington last evening.

It was a great big warm occasion with VUP’s publisher Fergus Barrowman doing the honours preceded by a lovely welcome from Unity’s Tobias Buck. Jenny spoke about her time at Unity as a shop girl and also said that it was our duty to support poetry publishing and independent bookshops by buying lots of poets’ work from Unity. She then delighted the large crowd with an extract from the title poem “The Rocky Shore”.

In her talky poems in The Rocky Shore, she ranges over a wide variety of territory - love, death, children, illness, bread-making, and the garden. All the big themes.

Jenny Bornholdt is a poet and anthologist. Born in Lower Hutt in 1960, she holds a BA in English Literature and a Diploma in Journalism. She attended Bill Manhire’s original composition course at Victoria University of Wellington in 1984.

She is the author of a number of collections of poetry including Summer (2003) and These Days (2000) and Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems, which was published in 1997.
She has, with her husband, poet Gregory O’Brien, edited a collection of New Zealand love poetry My Heart Goes Swimming (1996) and they, with Mark Williams, edited An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997) which won the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.
Jenny Bornholdt spent six months of 2003 in Menton, France as the 2002 Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Fellow. She was New Zealand's Te Mata Poet Laureate 2005–2007.

Praise for Summer:
Jenny Bornholdt is one of New Zealand's best-loved poets. She allows her poems to immerse themselves in marvellous details of everyday life. Constantly through the years she has served up poems rich in anecdote and incident. . . . Jenny writes about all the important things in life: love, sex, family and memories. Otago Daily Times

Les Belles Etrangéres

Each year, with great generosity, the French government promotes the literature of one country. Last year, New Zealand was chosen.
French journalists visited New Zealand and wrote articles about New Zealand literature for publication in France.
A documentary film was made about the 12 writers who were chosen to tour France as part of Les Belles Etrangéres. (It means The Beautiful Strangers).
A number of publications also appeared in France, with the work of the touring writers, and a special edition of the journal EUROPE, dedicated to the work of New Zealand writers, was published.
Writers were Fiona Kidman, Albert Wendt, Vincent O’Sullivan, Owen Marshall, Elizabeth Knox, Chad Taylor, Geoff Cush. Sia Figiel, Allan Duff, James George and Dylan Horrocks. Jenny Bornholdt was selected but unable to tour because of ill health. With the organisers agreement and support she is going this year and is about to head off with husband Gregory O'Brien.

Congratulations Jenny on another fine collection, bon voyage and au revoir.
And my thanks to Louise Wrightson of NZ Books Abroad for alerting me to this Wellington event.

Murakami out of the running for William Hill award
Alison Flood writing in,
Thursday October 30 2008

The award-winning Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has fallen at the second fence in the competition for the William Hill sports book of the year, after failing to make the prize's shortlist, announced this afternoon.

Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - a series of reflections on what he talks about when he talks about running - made it over the first hurdle when the longlist was announced earlier this month, but has been squeezed out of contention by books aimed squarely at the sports fan.Six titles remain in the running for the prize, which comes with a £20,000 cheque and a free £2,000 bet for the winner.
Read Alison's full report including the shortlist at the Guardian online.

The judges' decision does not surprise The Bookman in the slightest as this is not really a sports title and although the author is a master exponent in the fiction field, (he'll win the Nobel Prize for fiction in the next few years I wager), this is non-fiction, a memoir really, and he is not at his best. Read my review from a couple of weeks back.

In my post on Wednesday regarding four books all dealing with the culinary history of New Zealand I missed out a title. There are actually five, not four as I suggested. Thanks to those friends who have pointed out the error of my ways.

The one I missed was A DISTANT FEAST, by Tony Simpson,
Random House, $44.99
and it was published in September this year.

My apologies to all concerned. However in my own defense I will say that this title does differ somewhat from the others in that it is written by a well-known, highly regarded social and cultural historian, and also it deals with the origins of New Zealand’s cuisine rather than the present day practices. Indeed most of the fabulous photographs and other illustrations liberally scatterd through the book are from Victorian times.

Having said that I must add that in a country where our biggest-ever selling book is the Edmonds Cookery Book then this foodie history should be a hit with NZ readers.

I love these labels.

Look at this 1895 Taranaki wedding scene, below left. Could almost be today with the marquee, white bridal gown and men in suits! Loads of great photos are a real feature of the book.

Tony Simpson is a Wellington-based social and cultural historian, writer and lover of good food.
He attended Canterbury University, completing a BA in Politics and an MA with Honours in History and Politics. Tony takes a strong interest in food and cooking and was a restaurant reviewer for Cuisine magazine, had a food column in Wellington City magazine and has been a regular contributor to Dish magazine. He has published 14 other titles including The Sugarbag Years, for which he won the Watties Writing Award in 1974.


Friday, October 31 2008, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Second Annual Literary Halloween Party

Check your invitation here.

52 Prince St.(b/t Lafayette & Mulberry),
New York,
NY 10012
Tel. 212.274.1160
Have a great time guys, wish I could join you.!
Helen Lowe is a Christchurch, NZ-based author who writes Fantasy-SciFi novels, poetry, and short fiction, and hosts a monthly poetry feature for Women on Air, Plains 96.9 FM.

Her latest, Thornspell, was published to excellent reviews in the US by Knopf and this month has been released in a handsome hardcover edition in New Zealand by Random House (NZ$32.99)..

I caught up with Helen earlier this week. Here is a transcript of our discussion which is rather longer than I normally like to put on the blog but Helen’s comments.are so thoughtful and detailed that I didn’t want to edit them at all.
I hope many of my readers, writers and would-be writers, children’s librarians and specialist children’s booksellers in particular, will find them of great interest.

Helen you took the slightly unusual step of getting published in the US before being published in NZ. How did you manage that and what were your reasons for doing that?

I suppose I didn't realise that it was unusual to try offshore first when I first started writing seriously, which was about ten years ago. When I started out—and despite having a major in English literature—I suppose I was quite naïve and thought that "a book was a book was a book", and that good writing was good writing, no matter what sort of story you chose to write. But as soon as I began to get involved in writing circles I quickly became aware of the gulf in NZ writing between "genre" and "literary" fiction and a sort of flavour in the air that NZ writers who were serious about their art "should" be writing NZ literary fiction. So for a long time I wasn't brave enough to tell anyone that I was writing at all because that would have meant owning up to—(gulp)—Fantasy. And not only Fantasy, but Fantasy that wasn't set in a distinctively NZ location, with recognisably New Zealand characters.

This perception of the NZ industry as not being particularly receptive to fiction of this kind was compounded by the criticism levelled at Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck—which came out around the same time—in terms of not being set in New Zealand with New Zealand characters. And of course, 1997-8 was at the very beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon, which I think has since transformed acceptance of Fantasy literature for Children and Young Adult readers. So if I was starting writing now and aware of books like Dreamhunter and Dreamquake and some of Ken Catran's novels I might not have the same perception, but 10 years ago it was very strong—and I was not the only one to hold that perception. The feedback I received from my first industry readers was that I would have to go offshore because the market just wasn't there in New Zealand.

In terms of getting published in the US (as opposed to the UK or Australia), the impetus to look in that direction came through an industry contact in Australia who looked at the synopsis for Thornspell and said: "you should really try America with this". But the key in managing to actually get published in the US was getting my US agent (Robin Rue of Writer's House), who knows her market incredibly well, not just what the specialities of all the different imprints are but also what they are in fact publishing at the time. All the things that looking at the guidelines in the Writers and Artists Yearbook and reading online FAQ don't tell you—and as you know, even if a publisher will accept unsolicited submissions, unsolicited manuscripts are always at the very bottom of their slush pile.

Having said that, I have also heard many stories of writers who have obtained overseas agents who have either not been able to place their book despite considerable effort to do so, or who have not performed, so I would hesitate to offer getting an agent as a universal remedy. But given the issue of not knowing the markets/players overseas and also that an increasing number of publishers are refusing unsolicited submissions, I do think that an agent can make a difference.
Thornspell is a beautifully crafted retelling of the classic fairytale, Sleeping Beauty, but with the Prince as the narrator. What inspired you to do that and how long did it take you to write the book? Did you plan the novel before you sat down to write it or did it ‘write itself’?

Thank you for saying that Thornspell is beautifully crafted. (Smiling!)

Coming back to my first answer, I still believe that good writing is good writing and that the "type" of story should be secondary to that. So I do put a lot of work into making the story as good as it possibly can be. After all, as a Fantasy writer, I have a great English literature tradition to live up to, going back as far as the Iliad and the Odyssey, but including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Faerie Queen, Gulliver's Travels, and A Christmas Carol!

In terms of deciding to retell Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the prince, I have always loved fairy tales, myths, and legends, but the idea actually "just came" when I was at the ballet Sleeping Beauty in 1998. The lights darkened, the prince came leaping onto the stage and I remember sitting up in my seat and thinking: "What about the prince?" It was the first time I had realised that he is almost invisible in terms of even such basics as where he came from and the sort of person he was, as well as his motivation. At the same time, he is vital to the story; he is the one who undoes the spell. So I felt that his story should be told—and the character of the Thornspell prince arrived in my head, complete with his name, which was Sigismund. A very Holy Roman Empire kind of name and in fact what gave the story its "Fantasy-universe" flavour: it is set in this world, in a country that could easily be part of the Holy Roman Empire but isn't (quite).

I scribbled out the first two chapters more or less then and there, including the initial encounter between Sigismund and the Margravine (the evil fairy of the traditional story but re-cast in a less traditional form), but my job at the time was very high pressure and so those first scribblings then got stuck in the drawer until 2005. At that time I was looking for a new story to write and when I found that initial draft I thought it had considerable potential. That was November-December 2005 and I completed the manuscript to the stage where I began to look for an agent in October 2006, although most of the serious writing took place between March 2006 and October. So eight years from the time of the original idea and first chapters, but six to seven months in terms of getting a completed manuscript.

Did I plan the story—not really. I always have a clear idea of the beginning and the end, and the arc the story will follow to get from one point to the other, but all the details in-between do tend to evolve as I go along. So in many ways it does feel as though the story is writing itself—but I do exert executive control from time to time, mainly telling those characters and plot lines that would 'balloon' the story well behind the original concept that this is not their book and they have to go away! (I'm smiling again, but in fact I am half serious; it does feel exactly like that sometimes.)

When & why did you decide to quit your day job and write full time? How is this working out?

Well, I started writing ten years ago because I was waking up at nights thinking: "Why aren't you writing"? I quit the day job—and the regular salary—at the end of 2003, probably because I am not very good at multi-tasking! When I do something I give it my whole attention, and because I was being paid to do my job it was always my first priority. It was also quite demanding work in terms of the long hours and the deadlines, so it had taken me 5 years to write my first novel (The Wall of Night) part-time. And because Wall was the first of a four book series, I realised that it was going to be another fifteen years before I would be able to do anything else, eg other books, short stories, and poems. And it was around that time that both my boss's wife and my mother were diagnosed with cancer, and both subsequently died, and that really does get you thinking about what you really want. So I decided to give the writing my full attention and see if I had been waking up for a reason or not. And the time period I gave myself to see how things were going was three and a half years, the same period it took my partner to retrain in computing and then get his first job—and the contract with Knopf came in bang on the three and a half years, which seemed like "fate".

But even before that I had started to have success with short fiction and poetry and there had been plenty of positive feedback on the first novel, Wall, so I was feeling that I was making headway. It was just a matter of "when"—and of course since the Knopf contract for Thornspell, my agent has also negotiated a contract for the follow up Children's/YA novel, Yrth (also with Knopf), and sold the 4-book Wall series to Eos (HarperCollins, USA). So although I have by no means "made it" yet, I at least feel that I am well on my way to establishing a writing career.

But if you measure in financial terms, I think the opportunity cost of the decision to write full time would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So from a purely financial point of view there is no rationale reason for becoming a writer—and the statistical chances of a writer becoming an international bestseller and making some real money are probably on a par with winning Lotto! But most people still seem to regard me as moderately sane, which is something I am still trying to figure out. J

I see you have been nominated for a CYBIL. You must be chuffed about that?

Very! The CYBILs are the Children's and Young Adult's Bloggers' Literary Awards in the States and aim to highlight books that are "both high in literary quality and kid appeal". Although a relatively new award (this is their third year) they are apparently highly regarded, but nominations are by 'readers' rather than the industry, so it is very encouraging to be nominated on both scores. But I am up against such high profile books as The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Hess, which recently won the Guardian Children's Fiction prize in the UK, Joanne Harris's Runemarks and Chris Paolini's Brisingr, so I definitely aim to keep my powder dry.

Have you got another novel in the pipeline?

I am currently working on The Heartstone of Yrth, which is another Children's/YA standalone story. It is not a sequel to Thornspell, although there are some deliberate background similarities between the two stories, and in many ways it is a darker story, since it deals with the effects of civil war and persecution on the central protagonist and those around her. But I am trying to balance between realism and ensuring that the story is not too dark, since it is for young readers. And I do feel that—despite the subject matter—it has those same life-affirming qualities that a reader in the States saw as positive in Thornspell.

As soon as Yrth is finished I will go straight on to working on the edit of The Wall of Night, which is the first book in my 4 part series—and then writing the next three books! Wall is aimed at an adult audience and in many ways is classic epic fantasy in the Tolkien tradition. There are forces of good and evil, action and alarms, swordplay and sorcery, and the world is also completely "other", unlike Thornspell which is set in what is recognisably this world. Yet within that framework, Wall examines the traditional Fantasy theme of good versus evil in the context of a society that believes it champions good and yet is divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear, so I do feel that it has something fresh to offer. Preliminary reader feedback has been very positive in terms of both the action of the story but also the depth of characterisation—which is also what reviewers and readers are saying about Thornspell, so perhaps there is a trend emerging!

You are a second-dan black belt in aikido and represented your university in fencing. How much did you draw on your knowledge of these disciplines when you wrote the weapons training and battle scenes in Thornspell? Was there a lot of research required before writing the novel?

I drew on them a lot! A great deal of the training is drawn from aikido and the Japanese martial arts tradition generally and I used my practical knowledge of both fencing and Japanese sword to work through the action sequences—sometimes literally picking up a sword to work it through! The Japanese martial arts tradition also really helped with the fundamental understanding of both archery (although I have never practiced this) and the use of the staff and daggers. In terms of research I have always been fascinated by both history and the martial arts generally, so already had a good background knowledge of the European knightly traditions and training (for example that squires kept vigils before being formally dubbed a knight), but this also meant that I knew when I had to do more research. Areas included more in-depth reading about the code of chivalry and the history of various weapons: for example, exactly when the knight's broadsword began to give way to the duellist's rapier; when armoured knights with lances became lancers; and when firearms such as the hackbut were first used and when they became what we identify as "muskets".

The hero of Kicking Horse Pass –
New book reveals the astonishing story of New Zealand’s ‘Mr Science’

James Hector was one of New Zealand’s first celebrities. A Scottish doctor, geologist and explorer, he arrived in the country in 1862 at the age of twenty-eight, fresh from a daring three-year expedition in Canada. Despite cold, hunger and constant threat of attack by Indians, he and his four companions had mapped a large swathe of Canada’s southwest, and in the process Hector had nearly lost his life at a place now famously called Kicking Horse Pass.

In New Zealand, James Hector’s job for the Otago provincial government was to survey a vast area of the South Island, look for gold and other minerals, and find a route through the Southern Alps. He did this and much more: in less than eight years he had founded all New Zealand’s major scientific institutions, and was in charge of them all.

Today these institutions – under their modern names the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Royal Society of New Zealand, and GNS Science – still form the scientific backbone of New Zealand.

James Hector was a brilliant organiser but he was also a passionate scientist, who researched and wrote on numerous topics, from the geology of coal fields to the fossil skeletons of whales. He was an avid botanist – thirteen New Zealand plant species bear his name – and as a geologist he produced maps of enduring quality.

In November 2007, a symposium was held at Te Papa to commemorate the centenary of Hector’s death. Awa Press has collected the talks from this event into a modest but fascinating book, The Amazing World of James Hector (Awa Press, $25). The impressive list of contributors includes Montana award-winning scientist George Gibbs, Victoria University chancellor Tim Beaglehole, former Geological Survey head Ian Speden and museologist Conal McCarthy, as well as two of Hector’s great-grandsons, Chris Hector and Peter Hector.

Since Hector’s time, New Zealand scientists from Rutherford to MacDiarmid have gained international fame. If you want to find out how it all began, read this absorbing book.

Random House Move to Reduce eRoyalty Rates Attracts Agents Criticism

Read what Richard Curtis thinks about this issue on his excellent blog
McEwan opera has London premiere

Ian McEwan's novels include Amsterdam and Saturday
An opera featuring a libretto by Booker prize-winning novelist Ian McEwan has had its first performance in London.
For You, about an arrogant composer who yearns for the thrills of his youth, is being staged at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio.
McEwan said he had been "half bullied" into collaborating with the composer Michael Berkeley, a long-time friend.
The author added he deliberately chose themes of sex, obsession and adultery because he believed they suited opera.
Read the full BBC report at the BBC online.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What’s the Point of Discretion? Dishing Is More Fun

By JANET MASLIN writing in The New York Times, Published: October 29, 2008

In 1964 George Hamilton appeared in a bit part on a television series about three suave con-men cousins. The leading men of “The Rogues” were David Niven, Gig Young and Charles Boyer, and they kept busy trying to upstage one another. The cocked eyebrow, the attention-getting cough, the scornful sneer: Mr. Hamilton learned those debonair tricks from the experts and has spent a lifetime putting them to sneakily good use. When it comes to trade secrets, he also likes to ask himself, “What would Gloria Swanson do?”

George Hamilton pic by Robert Sebree

By George Hamilton and William Stadiem
Illustrated. 305 pages. Touchstone. $26.

One thing Ms. Swanson did was publish a memoir (“Swanson on Swanson”) equally devoted to image burnishing and indiscretion. It was in the tradition of “My Wicked, Wicked Ways” by Errol Flynn, another member of Mr. Hamilton’s personal pantheon. Now 69, at a point in his career where a stint on “Dancing With the Stars” qualifies as a recent triumph, Mr. Hamilton is ready to spill some beans of his own.
To read Janet Maslin's full review link here.

Maud's Journal
A Writer At Work

Come in and meet Christine Dann, author of A Cottage Garden Cookbook, Cottage Gardening in New Zealand and others.

Christine will be in the store at lunchtime on Friday November 7, at work on her latest book on sustainable food production & consumption in NZ . She will be very happy to talk to you and discuss the issues.

7 November, 2008

Jason Books
3 Lorne St
Auckland 1010
New Zealand
Ph 00649 3790266

Linda Olsson – Penguin Books – NZ$37

I have no idea really how many book launches I have attended over the past forty years but my guess is that it would be well past a thousand. During my bookselling and publishing days I was often the organizer and/or speaker but in recent years as a book reviewer and book blogger I have the luxury of going along as a guest. I am selective and only attend those where I am reviewing the book being launched.
During September and October I have attended 14 such events. It seems to be the season, not surprising I guess as a fair chunk of locally published titles come out in the September/November period to catch the Christmas market.

Last night I attended a book launch at the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland city that was different to any other.
Linda Olssen’s protagonist in her new novel is Adam Anker who has taught music at university but is now a composer.
So following introductory remarks by Penguin Publisher Geoff Walker, (his eleventh launch of a Penguin NZ title in six weeks!), and a thoughtful launch speech by noted NZ writer Witi Ihimaera, (a copy of which I have and will reproduce below), our author of the moment (pic left by C Kathrin Symon) explained that music played a major part in Sonata For Miriam and she surprised us by introducing:-

Mikhail Tablis, who played Chopin Waltz Op.69 No.1.
Then came prominent NZ actor and theartreperson Simon Praast who did a reading from the book.
He was followed by
Mikhail Tablis, piano and Lilya Arefyeva, cello, who played Passacaille for piano and cello by Szymon Laks’
Then came noted actress Donogh Rhees (pic left) with another reading with the whole show concluding with
Mikhail Tablis, piano and Lara Hall, violin, playing Adagio from Sonata for Miriam by Alexander Ekroth-Baginski, a piece of hauntingly beautiful music especially commissioned for the novel

So as you can see it was not your normal book launch.
Actually I was sitting there with the beautiful music wafting over me and my mind went back to Vikram Seth’s superb 1999 novel, An Equal Music, which also had music at its centre. Incidentally a CD was issued featuring all the music mentioned in Seth’s novel and later Linda told me that the same happened for her book when it was recently published in Sweden. Penguin Publisher Geoff Walker is following up on this.

Annie and I went out for dinner after the launch and were quite late getting home but I decided nevertheless to start Linda’s novel and managed 50 odd pages before sleep claimed me. In these first 50 pages the story is a sad one with our protagonist attempting to cope with the death of his beloved teenage daughter Miriam. Beautifully written, quite poetic in fact, and I can’t wait for tonight when I can get back to it.
More about the story after I have finished it.

Meantime here for your interest is Witi Ihimaera’s launch speech:

When you’ve finished reading Linda Olsson’s “Sonata for Miriam”, published by Penguin Books, you’ll want to read it again.

She tells the story of a man named Adam Anker, a composer, living in Krakow, Poland who picks up a hairpin, a rusty hairpin in the park. He remembers back to a day, just before his daughter Miriam left their Waiheke Island beach home to visit a friend; on that day, he picked up a shiny hairpin,
Miriam’s hairpin.

One tangible object, two tangible occasions - and they are sufficient to begin a journey of memory as Adam Anker leaves Waiheke Island and embarks on a voyage that takes him eventually to Krakow, but then onward from there to an island in Sweden.

What’s important is that we recognise the voice: it’s the voice of Linda Olsson, and it affirms that she has become a major novelist. As those of you who have read “Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs” will expect – it’s written in such poetic and spare language and, as with that book, drenched with tears. It’s also structurally astonishing, like a sonata itself. Linda takes us through an introduction which contains material which is later stated in the exposition.

From Waiheke Island, we follow Adam Anker as he begins to piece together fragments of memory which reveal him to be a complex man with a complex history deriving from Europe during and following World War II and the history of survivors of the Holocaust.

The exposition contains prominent harmonic and thematic parallelisms as he hears the stories – there are so many other stories in “Sonata for Miriam” – of others as they offer their fragments of memory: a woman named Clara Fried in Wellington, a man named Szymon Liebermann in Vienna. As they speak I kept hearing – and you will forgive me, Linda, if I indulge in my own interpretation of your work, Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Piano and Violin as both weave in and out of the principal melody.
There are cadences that bring us to a codetta which springs us into the development of the sonata: the moving through different keys and new materials and themes as more stories are told: those of a man named Moishe Spievak in Krakow, married to a woman named Wanda Maisky whose sister Marta haunts the book. There’s also a woman named Cecilia Hagg on an island in Sweden and she has made what to some readers might consider to be an incredible choice.
What’s interesting, from a musical point of view is that her choice brings us back – in the way that the sonata form does – to the recapitulation and the coda: through an act unknowingly suggested by his daughter, Miriam, Adam Anker is able to reconcile himself with his worlds Old and New, public and personal, spoken and unspoken - and all his histories.

“Sonata for Miriam” is stark. It’s also incredibly rich. It’s evanescent, has sinewy strengths as well as fragility, it opens up to pain, to joy, to catharsis. It
offers up the opportunity to discover silence on one hand, music on another, and always the gift of the humane – and the need to always hope.

Linda has written in her author’s note: “When Adam Anker first appeared in my thoughts I knew virtually nothing about him. This proved to be fortunate. I think if I had known more about the challenges involved I might not have followed him on his journey.”

Readers not only in New Zealand but around the world will be glad she did.
"John Drawbridge"
from the John Drawbridge Memorial Trust Board.
By Damian Skinner with Robert Mcdonald and Tony Drawbridge.

297 x 297mm. 28mm spine width. 150gsm paper.
264 pages; 3 foldouts, including the Beehive mural (below left) and the New Zealand House mural.

Contains sections on stained glass, oils, watercolours, murals, prints.

The cover is the 'Sea and Sky' mural, originally owned by Shaw Saville.
Personal photos also included.

Standard edition, $165.00 HB.
Limited edition, $320.00 HB and includes the DVD 'Aspiring'... James K Baxter etc. Only 100 copies of this limited edition will be available.
A very fine Ron Sang publication.
Due November 20th 2008

written by Helen Parsons
Parsons Bookshop in Auckland,
26 Wellesley Street East,
Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Ph +64 9 303 1557.
Betty Gilderdale Award 2008 goes to Tauranga

Lois Rout of Tauranga, (pic left celebrating her 70th), is the recipient of the 2008 Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award, given by the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust for outstanding community service to promote books and reading for children.

As librarian and teacher for the Tauranga Public Library and Mount Maunganui Intermediate School, and founding member of Bookrapt, the Bay of Plenty Children’s Literature Association, Lois has worked tirelessly to support children's books and reading in the Bay of Plenty region,” says Storylines Trust chairperson Dr Libby Limbrick.

Her contribution is an outstanding example of regional leadership, not only through her professional work but also as a volunteer organizing workshops, seminars and many other local events to help children become lifelong readers.”

The Betty Gilderdale Award, acknowledging the contribution of author, historian and former tertiary teacher Betty Gilderdale, is given annually by the Storylines Trust for outstanding services to children’s literature.

Previous winners include writers Dorothy Butler, Elsie Locke and Ron Bacon, literary agent Ray Richards and in 2007 Katerina Te Heikoko Mateira.

The Bookman extends his warmest congratulations to Lois who is indeed a truly worthy recipient of this most prestigious award, she joins an illustrious group.

Next week Hamish Keith will give two lectures on The Big Picture and show episodes of the television series at The Centre for New Zealand Studies, Birbeck College The University of London.

The Centre will also host a London launch for his autobiography Native Wit.

To support Hamish’s trip – he was turned down by Creative New Zealand on the grounds that his lectures did not “fit their international strategy” - Auckland’s Muka studios has published a limited edition lithograph, Hamish Keith’s first art work in almost four decades.
The lithograph title Stolen Identities: Counterfeit Cultures is the same title as his first London lecture.

It is in an edition of 30 and is $350.
Christian Science Monitor To Drop Daily Print Publication, Go Online Only
DENISE LAVOIE writing in the Huffington Post, October 28, 2008

Pedestrians walk by the Christian Science Church in Boston Monday, Oct. 27, 2008. A century after it began publication, The Christian Science Monitor is giving up its daily print edition to focus on posting news online. The international newspaper, started in Boston by the founder of the Christian Science Church, plans to print its final daily editions in April. After that, it will print only a weekend edition. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
BOSTON — The Christian Science Monitor said Tuesday it will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition and focus on publishing online, succumbing to the financial pressure squeezing its industry harder than ever.

Come April, the Boston-based general-interest paper _ founded in 1908 and the winner of seven Pulitzer Prizes _ will print only a weekend edition after struggling financially for decades, its editor announced Tuesday.
The Monitor's circulation has fallen from a peak of 223,000 in 1970 to about 50,000 now, while its online traffic has soared. The newspaper gets about 5 million page-views per month, compared with about 4 million five years ago and 1 million a decade ago.

The Monitor was one of the first newspapers in the country to put content online, beginning in 1995, when correspondent David Rohde was taken prisoner in Bosnia.
"Obviously, this is going to help with our costs, but it also enables us to put much more emphasis on the Web and basically put our reporting assets and our editorial assets where we think growth will be in a very tough industry in the future, which we think is the Web," said Editor John Yemma, who was The Boston Globe's multimedia editor before he moved to the Monitor in June.
Read the full story here.

This sort of huge coincidence happens sometimes in book publishing.

This year has seen publication of four fine books all on similar themes, aspects of our culinary history.

Just to remind you these titles are:

Traditional home baking
Alexa Johnston – Penguin 0 $45

A culinary journey through Kiwi kitchens
From the 1930’s to the present day
Kate Fraser – Harper Collins – $44.99

A slice of New Zealand’s culinary history
Helen Leach – Orago University Press - $40

A story of New Zealand Cooking
David Veart – AUP - $49.99

All three are large, soft covered, colourfully illustrated and interesting books. And what a great collection they make, a wonderful resource.

Now Auckland City Libraries invite you to join them as author David Veart presents his new book First catch your weka: a story of New Zealand cooking.

Wednesday 12 November 2008 6.00pm
Central City Library
Whare Wānaga, level 2
Free event.
A welcome glass of wine will be available from 5.30pm, compliments of Glengarry Wines.

Analysing more than 150 years of recipes and cookbooks, this book chronicles the culinary history of New Zealand, looking at curious dishes such as boiled calf's head and stewed liver with macaroni, to the more traditional favourites such as homemade jams and chutneys.

It explores what makes New Zealand cooking distinctive, and examines how the culture has changed, from the prevalence of whitebait and mussels in the 1920s, to the arrival of Asian influences in the 1950s, and finally to the modern emphasis on fresh ingredients and fusion cooking.

By telling the history of what we ate - for example - in 1842 Charles Heaphy produced one of Pakeha New Zealand’s first recipes of Weka stuffed with sage and onion and cooked on a stick, it tells us a great deal about who we have been. David is a Department of Conservation archaeologist who has written scripts and narrated interpretative films exploring the history of North Head and Motutapu Island in Auckland.

A lover of cooking and recipes, he owns a very large collection of New Zealand cook books.Books will be available for purchase and David will be available for Q&As and book signing after his talk.
The fate of the Atlantic & our disappearing fisheries
Mark Kurlansky – Jonathan Cape - $37.99

Kurlansky is a fine writer with a string of outstanding non-fiction titles to his credit, (entertaining social history they have been aptly called), including Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster.
In his new book he explores the fate of our oceans and the decline of our fisheries.
While this book is essentially about the Western Atlantic fishery the same message is relevant to all fisheries everywhere.

As the back cover blurb suggests the number of large fish in the world is down by 90 per cent, according to one well-credited report; a more controversial review of the research, published in Science in 2006, stated that there will be no commercially exploitable stocks of wild fish at all by 2048.
Here is how Christopher Hirst reviewing the book in The Independent back in August saw it:

Kurlansky looks at the tension between fishermen earning a living and preservation of the species they catch. He notes that the Icelandic cod wars were another sign of the danger of innovation. Disturbingly, species do not return even when fisheries are closed: "Something huge – a massive shifting in the natural order of the planet – is occurring in the oceans."
The closest place he has found on this side of the Atlantic to Gloucester is the Cornish port of Newlyn. Its fishermen now largely depend on spider crabs sold to Spain and the revival of the pilchard or "Cornish sardine". As eight buyers bid for one haddock in Newlyn's fish market, he wonders if "this was the future of commercial fishing."

He concludes this exceptionally enjoyable book, simultaneously elevating and worrying, by insisting that the loss of fishing will diminish us all. Gradgrinds may accuse him of sentimentality, but commercial fishing brings liveliness and interest, not to mention gastronomic appeal, to coastal communities in a way that no tourist facility can begin to match.
I am a great admirer of Mark Kurlansky, he’d make a great dinner companion I reckon, but as much as I enjoy his social histories I wish he would write some more fiction!

I loved his novel, Boogaloo on Second Avenue (2005) and his collection of short stories, The White Man in the Tree (2000), but come on Mark, what about writing some more?!
As downtown Grand Rapids evolves, bookstore tries for liquor license
by Lynn Stevens Business Review Western Michigan
Tuesday October 28, 2008,

Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld opened their first Schuler Books store in Grand Rapids in 1982, and, as the city has changed, so has their retail mix.
Schuler Books & Music today has four locations -- three in the Grand Rapids area and one in Okemos, billed as five minutes from Michigan State University. The newest is in downtown Grand Rapids. All of them have fireplaces and cafes and are designed as comfortable places to hang out, Bill Fehsenfeld said.

The downtown store may get a liquor license in two to three months, and that innovation may solve the problem all downtown small businesses have -- slow evening and weekend business.
"The vision is it's an enhancement to the bookstore and our cafe and provides an alternate place where people can relax, browse the books and enjoy food from our cafe," Fehsenfeld said. "We're feeling this will be able to maybe lengthen our hours into the evening more."

Read the full piece at

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The misery of chain bookstores
Borders and Waterstone's sap me of the will to live

Guardian blogger Charlotte Higgins is in despair.............

Yesterday morning the spring was definitively removed from my step, as it always is, after an encounter with my "local" book shop.
In this case, local means Borders. I needed to get hold of one book and two mainstream pop CDs. And I wanted to buy some book plates from Paperchase, which is a concession tucked in there.

Walk in and you are bombarded with the visual cacophony of three-for-two offers, TV chefs and Parky's biography. Of course they have a wide selection of books, but the place is such a jungle – Aldi is surely more of a pleasure to visit, and I don't say much there – that locating what you want is a nightmare, and as for an enjoyable browse, forget it.

I headed upstairs and tried to find the CDs. A staff member, appealed to, said, candidly, "Our music selection is terrible." No go, then. I tried for the book, edging my way towards the relevant section, where the shelves were full of misshelved volumes and a mess. It wasn't there. I talked to the staff member again (who gets full points for being pleasant). He found the book on the computer, where it registered as "in stock", but he couldn't locate it on the shelves. He told me that the system did not necessarily reflect reality. Bookplates - well, forget it. The assisant I spoke to didn't know what the word meant.
Read the rest Charlotte's piece at the Guardian online.
I think it is time that New Zealand publishers had a hard look at how the chain bookstores are failing them.
I was having a coffee this morning out at Kohimarama when a fellow I know slightly came up and, perplexed, told me he had heard a review on Radio New Zealand National recently of a book about the international banana trade.
He liked the sound of it so much he went to a Paper Plus and then Whitcoulls to buy a copy. They did not have it in stock but showed no interest whatsoever in getting it for him. Too expensive for one book, no doubt. So he let it go.
That was the third time this year that has happened to him. He can't understand it.
I told him of course about Unity Books and other independents but he doesn't live in Mt Eden or Ponsonby or Takapuna and doesn't get into the city very often.
One has to wonder how many book sales are lost every year because of this refusal of the chain booksellers, and some independents one would have to say, to give service and act in their own interests.
Of course single copy special orders are expensive to handle but think of how many sales they may engender over the years by giving service and encouraging readers. Years ago when I was a bookseller in Napier I built my business around seeking special orders from our customers. It was expensive at first but before too long it repaid itself may times over.
The really ironic thing is that these inefficient chain booksellers are the very firms who get most favoured treatment by the publishers. They should get lesser terms. not better.
What do readers of my blog think?

Brian Falkner - Walker Books Australia, Random House US
Both editions are being launched today (28 Oct, USA) and Brian’s supporting website is now active: He also has his own very interactive website:

Brian is currently completing his three month residency at the University of Iowa, and taking the opportunity to be in New York to celebrate the launch of the US edition. Congratulations Brian.

Specialist crime fiction writer Vanda Symon writes about Dunedin biographer Lynley Hood and her books about Sylvia Ashton Warner.
Richard Wolfe – Penguin Books - $80

I wrote about the launch of this magnificent book last week and over the weekend I have had an opportunity to spend several happy hours reading and perusing it.
I felt envious of the task Penguin Books publisher Geoff Walker had given the author. Not that I would have the ability or knowledge to carry out such a task but in theory at least the idea was most appealing.
Wolfe of course has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Auckland, was a longtime curator at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, is a highly respected art and social historian and commentator. As well as an author of several books. He was the perfect choice for this major new work.

First off I observed from the contents pages that there are two portraits from the 18th century, 13 from the 19th century, 48 from the 20th century, and 19 from the 21st century. Seems a fair sort of division.
Then come two longish well developed essays which I asked Richard to summarise for me and here are those summaries:

Our portrait painters have long faced two serious challenges; the nation’s preference for landscape subjects, and its resistance to hanging images of people on its walls. As to what constitutes a ‘New Zealand portrait’, this survey is elastic enough to consider paintings of New Zealanders by outsiders and, conversely, ‘our’ view of others. And while a portrait might be expected to show an acceptable likeness, around 1935 our most celebrated expatriate, Frances Hodgkins, depicted herself as a collection of personal objects, among them scarves and a high-heeled shoe. Since then our portraitists have adopted an increasing range of styles and inventive approaches. While some have been favoured with important commissions, others have necessarily had to paint compliant friends and family members, or perhaps subjects drawn from history. But whatever the motivation, collectively these portraits represent a unique record of New Zealanders viewed over time.
With organized European settlement in the mid-1800s, landscape paintings dominated New Zealand’s early easels. But with the arrival of trained overseas artists at the end of the century, portraiture was now taught and actively encouraged. Before long, the genre’s recent revival in Edwardian England had an echo in New Zealand, particularly in Canterbury. From the 1930s that region also saw the emergence of a distinctive local style, and Rita Angus’s 1942 painting of her friend Betty Curnow would become one of the most popular and best known of all our portraits. But if the activity had gathered some momentum, it faltered in the postwar period when it now faced further competition from a new arrival - abstraction. A low point was reached in the mid-1960s, but portraiture was then about to enjoy a phoenix-like revival. In Auckland it was taken up by a new generation of artists including Robin White, Michael Smither and Ian Scott, whose influences included Rita Angus and the teaching of Colin McCahon, while in Christchurch such young portraitists as Alan Pearson, Tony Fomison and Philip Clairmont adopted a more expressionistic approach. And now, nearly 170 years after painting was first pronounced dead at the hands of photography, New Zealand portraiture is as vibrant as ever, as shown by a new breed of practitioners including Peter Stichbury, Gavin Hurley and Heather Straka.
(Thank you Richard, excellent).

Then of course the portraits, each with its own page and Wolfe’s useful, well crafted comments on each one on the opposite page.
I guess it is something of an old fashioned design approach but it works and seems appropriate.
Random comments then as I worked my way through the book over the holiday weekend (it is a large book by the way, one you read at the table or in the lounge, not in bed!)

*All the expected artists are represented – Charles Goldie, Raymond McIntyre, Frances Hodgkins, Christopher Perkins, Lois White, Rita Angus, (three by her, the only artist with more than one image and that is fair considering her speciality and output of portraiture), Evelyn Page, Peter McIntyre, Ian Scott, Robin White, Nigel Brown, Peter Siddell, Jacqueline Fahey, Robyn Kahukiwa, Mary McIntyre, Peter Stitchbury and Dick Frizzell. There are many more of course because there are more than 80 artists represented in total.

*And for me as a layman in the arts area there were quite a number of artists of whom I had not known previously. Ivy Fife (1905-1976) for example with her beautifully executed portrait of Peter (1942).

*Nice to see one of Peter McIntyre’s famous war portraits – this one of Major-General Sir Bernard Freyberg.

*I had no idea that artist Louise Henderson (1902-1994) was born in France.

*Greatly admired the 1957 portrait by Colin McCahon of his daughter Victoria. Hadn’t seen that painting before.

*The portraits by Philip Clairmont and Tony Fomison seem to reflect their tortured souls.

*Love the portrait of Tony Fomison by Alan Pearson.

*Mary McIntrye’s portrait of Michael Smither is great fun. Smither also has a portrait included.

*Good to see one of Glenda Randerson’s portraits from her 24 strong series of authors – this one of Catherine Chidgey painted in Albert Psrk in 2000 when Chidgey held the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship.

*Richard Killen’s portrait of Cool McLeavey is great fun as is Grahame Sydney’s 2002 portrait of Robin Judkins

*My favourite – A close call but I’ll go for Evelyn Page’s 1937 oil on canvas portrait of Charles Brasch.

This is a splendid piece of work by Richard Wolfe, a big, handsome and most interesting book that I am delighted to put on my bookshelf, it will be pulled down often.
John Le Carre – Hodder & Stoughton - $38.99

Reviewed by The Bookman on Radio New Zealand National’s Nine to Noon programme, October 28.

John Le Carre, now 77 years of age, originally worked in the British Foreign Service and then in M16 as a spy. He wrote his first novel while still with M16 hence the pseudonym John Le Carre, his real name is David Cornwell. When Kim Philby, the famous British double agent defected to Russia he blew the cover on many British agents including Cornwell, so Cornwell the spy became le Carre the writer and there is no doubt in my mind that he went on to become the greatest of all spy thriller authors. with some of his titles becoming household names – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, his third novel, the one that made his reputation, was made in to a movie featuring Richard Burton as the protagonist from the novel, but then there is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People, The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy and a host of others, more than 20, many of them made into movies or television.He sets the standard for this genre.

And now along comes A Most Wanted Man and you know I have the feeling that this may be one of his very best. It is absolutely unputdownable. In the main Le Carre’s earlier books had particular emphases on the Cold War, this was after all his area of practical experience, but with the Cold War ending in the late 80’s/early 90’s his books now have a new slant.

This one for example is very definitely a post-9/11 novel set in the city of Hamburg where of course the Muslim extremist Mohamed Atta & others plotted the 9/11 attack.

The story starts with a young, tortured fugitive, half Russian, half Chechen, smuggled into the German port city of Hamburg. (Just as an aside Le Carre in his spy days worked as the British political consul in Hamburg so he is on familiar ground here). Our fugitive’s name is Issa, he seems confused and lost and he may or may not be a Muslim.
He has previously been jailed by both the Turks and the Russians who both tortured him, he escaped from both places and from Sweden but the torture seems to have psychologically ravaged him. He carries in a bag around his neck a considerable sum of money for a refugee, US$500, and a key and password to a secret account at a small private Scottish Bank based in Hamburg. This account proves to hold over 12 million dollars the proceeds of money paid to his late father who was a crooked Russian colonel and an informer for the British secret service. The money by now has been well and truly laundered. Issa doesn’t want a bar of the filthy money but he is hoping the head of the banking house whose name he has been given will help him obtain German residency and a passport so he can become a medical student.

The likeable but somewhat muddled & inept banker, with the unlikely name of Tommy Brue, has inherited the bank from his father who had made most of his money by being the banker of choice to a bunch of dodgy Russian gangsters.

The third major player in this early part of the story is Annabel Richter, a young lawyer from a prominent legal family, who works for Sanctuary North a charity that attempts to help illegal immigrants.

In addition to these three there are a number of spies, from the German, British and American intelligence agencies, supposedly working cooperatively but in fact all putting their own interests and reputations first.

Le Carre is in his element here and these characters are especially well drawn providing one with a scary look inside the workings of these secret organisations. His principal German spy, the Hamburg-based Gunther Bachmann is a really interesting, strangely likeable character and along with the three aforementioned –the fugitive, the banker and the civil-rights lawyer – you have the major players all emotionally detailed in typical superb Le Carre style.

It is a cracker of a read and I guess in the end you can read it as a straight spy thriller or as something of a moral tale with a quite scathing attack on the US approach to security in the post 9/11 world.

An extraordinary novel that I read far into the night long after others were asleep.

Google settles dispute over online books
Mark Sweney writing in,
Tuesday October 28 2008

Google has reached a landmark agreement with authors and publishers to make millions of books available online, in a deal that includes a $125m (£80m) payout and the end to lawsuits filed by companies including Penguin.

The agreement, part of which is subject to the approval of the US District Court in New York, comes after two years of negotiations between the parties and will mark the end of two lawsuits against the Google Book Search tool.

Today's agreement settles a class action lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild in September 2005 challenging Google's plans to digitise, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without explicit permission.

A month later five major members of the Association of American Publishers – McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley – filed a separate suit on similar grounds.
The deal today, described in a joint statement by all parties as "groundbreaking", will see online access granted for millions of in-copyright materials "and other written materials" in the US through Google Book Search.
Read the full piece at the Guardian online.
And another Guardian report if this subject especially interests you.
B&N Launches Social Networking Site
By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 10/27/2008

Barnes & Noble has introduced its answer to Shelfari, Goodreads and other social networking sites for books.

It’s called My B&N, and it is live now. My B&N allows users to create free personal profiles around their preferences for books, music and movies. Users can customize their profile pages with a pen name, avatar, virtual library, reviews and ratings. B&N has also improved its list-making tools, and expanded its customer review and ratings features.
Much like other book social networking sites, My B&N has features that let users showcase the books they’ve read and what they’re currently reading (the site also lets them feature music and movies). The site reminds users of their recent purchases so they can add them to their library. Users can create lists that they can e-mail to friends and family, and share on Facebook, Digg and other outlets. An “EssentiaLists” feature allows them to create up to 100 customized lists on any topic or theme.
My B&N is accessible through a button on the homepage of

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Since early this morning, Tuesday October 28, The Bookman has been fielding phone calls and e-mails from irate poets and poetry readers about the Listener's rumoured axing of their regular poetry publishing.

Three poets, two in New Zealand and one from Australia confirmed they had received back poems which had been previously accepted with a note to the effect that they ( NZ Listener) was no longer going to be publishing poetry.
Talk about the you know what hitting the fan!
This remark from a publisher was typical of the many that poured in - publication of single poems in the Listener, as you know, has always been something poetry volume publishers look to along with other factors as a means of determining the potential saleability of a volume to the market.

And from a poet - Some of us will likely stop buying The Listener. I have bought it for over 40 years and what attracted me in particular was the fact that every week it published a story and one or two poems.

And from another poet - and the literary world is downgraded again. Not Somerset's fault of course; but it's sad if you think of the great Listener tradition under Duff and Holcroft, and the great poems by Curnow, Glover, Baxter, Louis Johnson etc that appeared

Two others suggested it was time to start a new magazine but generally there was just a widespread sense of grave disappointment with many commenting thet the Listener was the only mainstream magazine with serious literature coverage and poetry was an important part of that literature.
Oops I thought, with this level of criticism and concern flying around the digital waves it was time to contact the man in the hot seat, Guy Somerset, Arts Editor at the Listener, and see what was really going on and what he had to say.
Here then is his somewhat encouraging response to my enquiry:

If ever there were proof that New Zealand is a nation of poets, it is the correspondence the Listener has received since we suggested on Friday that we would have to stop running original poetry in the magazine.

The decision had not been taken lightly – it was an agonising one, given the rich heritage of the magazine’s poetry, of which all at the Listener are proud. The Listener is winner of the Montana award for best book pages for the past two years running, and its commitment to New Zealand literature is second to none. We remain just about the only part of the mainstream media where you will find substantial reviewing of New Zealand poetry, and this will continue to be the case.

However, as we head into global recession, the Listener, like other media, is having to rein in spending in order to weather a downturn in advertising. Painful as it is to make such choices, it was thought there were other areas in the arts and books section that needed to take priority for both money and space: book reviews, music, art, etc. The Listener has an obligation to cover all the arts to the fullest extent it can – not just literature.

We were also mindful that poetry was not something readers had spoken of in any of our recent surveys. However, in light of the comments since Friday, it is clearly something we underestimate at our peril. We are heartened at the response of our readers and welcome further comment on the matter. In the meantime, we are revisiting our decision in order to see if we can find the necessary savings elsewhere and perhaps a more secure regular spot for poetry.

Whatever happens, the Listener will honour the poems it has already accepted, and will publish them over the coming months. Who knows, as many of you have pointed out, one of them may be the next James K Baxter or Allen Curnow.

Guy Somerset
Arts & Books Editor
New Zealand Listener
The Guardian has a poem each week, here is this weeks selection.