Monday, October 31, 2011

THE AUCKLAND WRITERS & READERS FESTIVAL Announces appointment of Anne O’Brien as Artistic Director

Dr Sarah Sandley, Chair of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival is delighted to announce the appointment of Anne O’Brien as Artistic Director of the organization.
“We are so grateful to Stephanie Johnson for her excellent work as acting Artistic Director and delighted to have Anne O’Brien (left) join us, in a full-time position in December,” Sarah Sandley says.
Anne O’Brien will be working closely with General Manager Anne Rodda who oversees all the non-artistic aspects of the business.
Anne Rodda adds, “I am so looking forward to having Anne join our small team. I do find it remarkable that we have the same christian name and hope it isn’t too confusing for everyone!”
Anne O’Brien brings to the Festival a wealth of experience in the literary festival sector, taking over the position from Jill Rawnsley. These are matched with exceptional producer skills and extensive arts and literature networks.   She has a degree in English Literature and a Diploma in Journalism and has previously managed the NZ International Arts Festival's six-day literary festival, as well as producing Nine to Noon with Kim Hill for Radio New Zealand National.  More recently, Anne spent three years as the Executive Director of Women in Film and Television NZ. 
"I'm excited and honoured to join the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival team.  The power of the written word to delight and console us, as well as reflect, expand and challenge our thinking, is one of the inspirations of my life.  I have loved reading from the time I was old enough to sneak out of bed and squeeze myself into the small alcove by the door so as to catch the light from the hallway and finish my book! I'm looking forward to the privilege of programming this successful Festival over the coming years, building on the tremendous work that has gone into establishing it as one of New Zealand's premiere arts endeavours," Anne says.

Vic Books celebrates Halloween

All Hallow’s Read - Posted on by vicbooks

In support of Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read initiative, and with Halloween coming up on Monday, here are some of my top scary book picks:

Struwwelpeter By Heinrich Hoffmann

Written in 1845, and containing some glaringly un-PC sections when viewed through the lens of modern society, Struwwelpeter is one of the only children’s picture books that I would call terrifying. Full of morality tales, Hoffman depicts children suffering dismemberment as a punishment for thumb-sucking, immolation as a consequence of playing with matches, and affliction with a wasting disease as a result of not eating what’s been given to them. I’d class this one as more of a curiosity for teens and adults than as something I’d give to children the age it was originally written for.

The Radleys By Matt Haig
Not your typical blood-sucker novel, The Radleys follows a pair of suburban-dwelling vampires who raise their children to believe that they are human. When their daughter gets into a physical altercation resulting in bloodflow, all is suddenly and tragically revealed, with very complicated consequences; a great story about the line between morality and denying your true nature.

See Vic Books full post at their blog.

The Reinvention Of Love

There is a trend at the moment for fictionalising the lives of real people, particularly literary figures. Already I’ve read novels about the poet Rupert Brooke and the writer Ernest Hemingway. The latest addition to the genre, The Reinvention Of Love by Helen Humphreys (Profile, $36.99), is a re-imagination of the love triangle between 19th century French writer Victor Hugo, his wife Adele and the literary critic Charles Sainte-Beuve.
The story begins in 1830s Paris with the young Charles being challenged to a duel by a newspaper colleague he has insulted. And so we learn from the off that Charles is a little vain and rather rash, with a flair for getting himself caught up in complicated situations.
In love with Adele Hugo and in awe of her husband Victor’s talent, he is part of their inner circle, the godfather of their youngest daughter and a regular at their home. For a while he manages to continue both the love affair and the friendship: meeting Adele in a public park or hotel room, sometimes dressing as a woman (although judging by the photograph included he wouldn’t have made a terribly convincing one), and meeting her in a church. Their love affair is all fierce passions, snatched moments of joy then long torments of separation; made more poignant by the fact Charles has a secret physical impediment he believes makes him unacceptable to most women. It ends when he makes the mistake of confessing the affair to Victor. Torn between her family and her lover, Adele cannot help but choose to stay with her children.
Humphreys follows the two parted lovers to the end of their lives, as they grow old and stout but never entirely let go of their love for one another, and then on beyond Adele’s death to the tragic legacy of their affair; the fate of her youngest daughter Dede.
I don’t know enough about Victor Hugo and Sainte-Beuve to see exactly where the line between truth and fiction is drawn but the bare facts of this tragic and bizarre story are certainly true. Humphreys spent five long years researching and writing the novel - Saint-Beuve helping the process by obligingly writing and publishing the story of his affair shortly after it ended. Perhaps inevitably the tale is skewed in his favour. Victor Hugo is shown as the stereotypical creative type: a terrible husband, self-centred, with a monstrous ego, while Charles is seen as hostage to his emotions and the victim of his condition.
Novels like this one rescue people from being lost in history. How many of us today have heard of Sainte-Beuve or continue to read Hugo’s work? Who knew of Adele or the fate of her daughters? Humphreys breathes new life into all of them, writing with great sensitivity, thoughtfulness and a wry tone at times.
There is a lot going on in what is a fairly slim novel: madness, confused sexuality, revolution, love and loss. But it is beautifully paced, elegantly written and compelling from start to finish. There will be rich pickings here for book clubs.

Nicky Pellegrino, (right NZH photo), a succcesful Auckland-based author of popular fiction is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above piece was first published on 23 October, 2011, as was the Booklover piece below.

British novelist Tasmina Perry is the author of Private Lives (Headline, $34.99)
The book I love most is…I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. It's a magical, bittersweet coming of age story that I can read again and again. Cassandra Mortmain is one of the quirkiest and most charming narrators in literature and the whole book has a delicious English eccentricity about it that I love.

The book I’m reading right now is...Absolute Power by David Baldacci. I bought a bag of novels by American thriller writers that I haven't tried before - like Baldacci, Tess Gerristen and Brad Meltzer that are perfect for taking on holiday.

The book I'd like to read next is...The Language Of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, a debut novel about a young woman whose gift for flowers helps change the lives of the people around her.

My favourite bookshop is...
Barts Bookstore in Ojai, California.
I discovered this place when I did a home exchange on America's west coast a couple of years ago. It's an outdoor bookshop built around a huge tree in the middle of Ojai with lots of quiet nooks stuffed with used books and rare first editions. There's a little stall to buy lemonade or coffee and when it's closed you can take books from a shelf outside and leave your money in an honesty box.

The book that changed me was…
my first novel Daddy's Girls. I didn't expect it to be as popular as it was but when it went into the top ten bestsellers list in England it gave me the confidence to give up my career as a journalist and write full-time.

The book I wish I never read is…
I don't really regret reading any book. If it hasn't grabbed me by the first three or four chapters I just move on so I don't waste too much time on something I'm not enjoying

Summer Fiction School - Take the Plunge!

Immerse yourself in this stimulating 3-day course of fiction writing. You will learn how to transform your life stories into fiction, and hear about fiction techniques such as choosing the right point of view, when to use 'show not tell', writing great dialogue and the magic of narrative voice.

An inspiring introduction into the world of writing fiction, tutored by Creative Hub Director John Cranna. $420 (incl GST), from Friday 13 January to Sunday 15 January 2012 at the waterfront teaching rooms, Princes Wharf, Auckland. Email for details or visit

2012 Creative NZ Randell Cottage Writer in Residence

Historic Randell Cottage in Thorndon, which hosts a French-NZ writers’ residency turning ten next year, is in the midst of its summer changeover with writers leaving and arriving, and applications closing for next year’s NZ writer.
The NZ writer in residence Peter Walker is packing up to leave on November 1 just three days before applications close for the NZ writer for 2012, and three weeks before the annual Open Day on November 19 when Wellingtonians are invited to look over the 1867 Thorndon cottage. Shortly after that, the French writer in residence arrives to begin her six months at the cottage. She is Florence Cadier who writes for children and young adults.
Co-ordinator of the applications for the 2012 Creative NZ Randell Cottage Writer in Residence is writer Maggie Rainey-Smith. She says she’s accepting NZ writer submissions until midnight on Friday November 4, ‘Last year there were a number of last minute applications encouraged by a flurry of tweeting. This year’s writer, Peter Walker, didn’t have time to send his by mail from London, so he gave it to a friend who was flying to NZ. His friend flew in and raced to the home of Randell Cottage trustee Fiona Kidman, handing it to her hours before the deadline!’
Rainey-Smith says the residency dates have changed slightly, so that from next year the NZ writer will start later in the year in July, finishing up in December, and the French Writer won’t arrive until the end of the following January, leaving in June. She says application forms can be downloaded off the website, or email her at 

The Randell Cottage Open Day is on Saturday November 19, 11- 4 pm, at 14 St Mary St Thorndon, and the Randell trustees are encouraging Wellingtonians to come and view the historic cottage, and to find out more about the writer residency which was set up in 2001 but selected its first writer – New Zealander Peter Wells – in 2002. Working with the French Government, the Randell Cottage Writers Trust has hosted 19 writers from New Zealand and France for six-monthly stints, and is about to welcome its 20th.
Trust Chair David Underwood says, ‘We could always do with more support especially with our tenth birthday coming up. People can join the active Randell Cottage Friends group which helps look after the writers and keep the cottage running. Details are on our website.’
Peter Walker –who works as a journalist in London – says he has made good use of his six months in Randell Cottage completing a draft of his second novel. He says being able to live and work in the cottage, as well as the $20,000 stipend, has paid dividends for his writing as well as allowing him to catch up with friends and family and get to know Wellington again. Walker’s previous books are: the non-fiction The Fox Boy and a novel, The Couriers Tale, both published by Bloomsbury.
The incoming French writer in residence, Florence Cadier, is also a journalist by profession. Many of her books have been translated including Ils divorcent (They are getting divorced) and Dessine avec Mila (Drawing with Mila). She was awarded a number of prizes, including the town of Poitiers’ historic novel award and the Literary Al Terre Ado prize, for Le rêve de Sam (Sam’s Dream). Her most recent novel is L’été des amours (Summer of loves), published in March 2011.
During her six-month stay in Wellington, Florence will lecture, attend conferences and taking writing workshops at Alliances Françaises, universities and schools. Finally, in conjunction with the Tjibaou Centre in Noumea, Florence Cadier, will tour New Caledonia.

A Home-grown Cook: The Dame Alison Holst Story

I reviewed this title the other day and meant to say how much I liked the end papers. I have now managed to get an image -
It is rather small here and a bit hard to see but it features the covers of all of Alison's books.Impressive.

Christos Tsiolkas: 'There's a tameness to the modern novel'

Christos Tsiolkas, the Greek-Australian author of controversial bestseller The Slap, on the joys of moussaka, the crisis in Greece and seeing his characters on a TV screen

 - The Observer,
chhjristos tsiolkas
Christos Tsiolkas: 'My mum read The Slap in Greek and rang me saying, "How do you know how we think?" That was the best review I've ever had.' Photograph: Paul McCarthy

Your bestselling book, The Slap, which charts the ripple effect of a man slapping someone else's child at a suburban barbecue, is set in your home town of Melbourne. In Britain, most of us know Melbourne as the setting for Neighbours. Were you keen to show another side to the city?
I did think, I'm going to do the antithesis of Neighbours. I wanted to show the world I live in, a world I don't see reflected in Australian literature or on screen. Australia has a big chip on its shoulder about being suburban and middle class. Dame Edna Everage represents a kind of nightmare of the suburbs. But the Australian middle class now is made up of second- or third-generation immigrants, like me, and the white face of Neighbours gives me the shits.

Your first novel, Dead Europe, about to be republished here, was darker in tone…
Yes, Dead Europe was a very different book. For me, it was about cutting off the ghosts of Europe. The Slap was completely about my place, about Australia: that was how I saw it.

Your parents emigrated from Greece after the second world war. You were raised in a Greek community and didn't speak English until you went to school. Do you feel more Greek or Australian?
For a long time, until my late 20s, I felt the romance of Greece. When I went there, I loved it, I felt joyous, but it wasn't home. I came away thinking, I'm not Greek, I'm Australian.

So do you prefer moussaka or Vegemite?
[Laughs] Moussaka, definitely. I didn't grow up with Vegemite in the house and my parents were quite appalled the first time I ate it.

Did your parents like The Slap?
It's been interesting because they don't read English so they had to wait for the Greek translation which only came out earlier this year. I was nervous about their reaction but they responded well and they really liked Manolis [the Greek patriarch character]. Mum was ringing me saying: "How do you know how we think?" That was the best review I've ever had.

I imagine, with all the graphic sex scenes you wrote, that might be a hard thing to give your parents to read…?
[Laughs] Yes, writing sex was one of the big challenges.
Read the full interview at The Guardian.

The 10 best graphic novels - in pictures

Bookshop - Each week, we trawl the new releases (and some old favourites) for recommendations to suit discerning readers.

Lucy Sussex - Sydney Morning Herald - October 30, 2011

<p> </p>THE GOOD LIFEAdrian Richardson with Lucy Malouf
Plum, $59.99

Men tend not to watch Nigella for the recipes. So what to buy the bloke getting interested in cooking? Richardson, from Carlton's La Luna, serves fare that is hearty, tasty, healthy and unpretentious. Degrees of difficulty vary, from mashed potatoes to home-made salami. So the beginner is catered for but also the more advanced cook. Veggie options are provided, and also sinful cakes. When we tried a cookbook dinner party challenge (try a recipe, bring a plate), every dish came out just fine. His debut, Meat, is also recommended.
Bryan Gaensler
NewSouth, $29.95
Some people loudly declaim they don't ''get'' science. Others would like to know more but don't know where to start. Astronomer Gaensler has produced a book with a big gosh-wow factor, but also solid information. His thesis is that the universe is stranger and more extreme than we could ever imagine. See the planet that speeds like a hellish bat! The monster star! Or the Oh-My-God Particle! The content is extraordinary but explained easily. The science might be hard but it is an effortless, enjoyable read. An endless source of wonder.
Judith Armstrong
Pier 9, $29.99
In the worst literary husband stakes, Leo Tolstoy is up there with Dickens and Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. His marriage to the much younger Sonya was passionate and stormy. She acted as his copyist and bore 13 children. Her diaries colour this closely researched novel: Sonya tells her own story. It reveals a toxic relationship of mutual dependence. The writing is powerful and grim, showing the great writer as egoist and misogynist. Only a strong woman could survive Tolstoy, and Sonya did. Compelling.

Read more:

A lesson on self-publishing

By  - Washington Post - October 28, 2011

Self-publishing is fraught with terrors — first, you have to convince yourself you really have something worth saying; then, you have to get it down on the page, or in the computer; next, you have to cough up hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to get the book designed and printed; and finally, you have to figure out some way to sell all those copies, or give them away, just to clear off the kitchen table so you can sit down and have a bowl of noodles.
Well, if it weren’t all precarious enough, Fred Cleveland adds a whole new wrinkle to the agonies of authordom. According to CBS Atlanta News, Cleveland has been taking bundles of money from would-be authors on the promise of producing their books — only to deliver nothing.
Cleveland’s company, Publishing Associates, has received as much as $15,000 from individual authors who never got their hands on their books, CBS Atlanta says. Some have sued Cleveland and gotten judgments against him but still haven’t seen their books, or their money, according to the report.
The lesson: head for Hollywood. I hear writing for the movies is much simpler.

Make Love and War

A  poem about the second Gulf War by Michel O'Leary


The last train is about to leave
In fact, has left . . .
The cradle of Western Civilization
Is under siege
As the Euphrates burns, a river of flames
Set alight this past decade
By the twin towers of a double burning bush
The new manifestation of Western Civilization
Is engulfing and eating its own parents
USA, teenager of the world
New kid on the old block
With raging hormones of revenge . . .
The last train has pulled out
From the stations of My Lai and Lidice and Fallujah
It doesn’t matter who’s killing ya
If you’re being killed –
Talking to someone who fought in Vietnam
Who witnessed the murder of women and children
He claims the SS troops were more honest
Than the Black Hawks of the neo-con men . . .


My love comes to me
And baring her beautiful breasts
Before my loving gaze
And soft caress
She gives me the gift
Only a young woman
Can bestow on an older man . . .
The strange healing, and holding up of a mirror
The touch of the goddess . . .
And no matter how humble
His or her beginnings have been
That gift of love, of aroha
Although tainted by temporal concerns
Cannot be lost, as the flow
Of life loosens itself
From its strictures . . .


The doors after perception, open
As does the grave
The tomb beckons to . . .
            The hikoi of Hope
            The procession of Enough
            The long line to the Unknown Soldier
Wending its way through the Wellington streets
Like a river of remembrance  . . .
When its all over
The soldiers remind me of death
My young love reminds me of life
But now she is gone
And who will say
            “Did you miss me?”  
It doesn’t matter who’s killing ya
If you’re being killed – 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

'War poetry is as alive as it ever was'

In the line of fire: British soldiers in action in Afghanistan

Well versed in war  - Nick Duerden - The Independent - Friday, 28 October 2011

MARCO DI LAURO/GETTY IMAGES In the line of fire: British soldiers in action in Afghanistan

When Theodore Knell left the army, 15 years ago, he brought back with him a certain amount of baggage. "No soldier will ever admit to having post-traumatic stress disorder," he says, "but trust me, what you do during your time in the army has a huge impact on your life afterwards. It couldn't not."
Knell turned to poetry. In "Loss", he writes: "Quietly we cry/ Not like children who have lost a favourite toy/ But as men/ Here to bury a brother, a warrior, and my best friend/ Who in the eyes of his mother/ Will always be just a boy."
"Loss" is one of many new war poems published by Ebury this month in Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets. The collection, which reflects on all aspects of duty from conflict to the complications of homecoming to remembrance, is notable for its lack of poetic ambiguity. Little here is dressed up in elliptical prose, and deliberately so.
Then there is Major Stewart Hall, injured in the line of duty. "Thirty-nine years of personal development stubbed out," he writes, in "Life With A Brain Injury". "No longer can I serve to lead/ Although I plead just to see again the person I grew to be."
The project is backed by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who has said that it is "humbling, allowing the voices of those whose lives have been changed by war to speak to us with the raw directness of feeling and experience".
Knell confirms that poetry is as popular among the troops as ever. "Most of us have read our Wilfred Owens, our Siegfried Sassoons," he says. "Not the more bloodthirsty poems, perhaps, but there are many that show the lighter side of the trenches. They help boost morale and camaraderie."
Reading and writing poetry allows the forces to display something they may otherwise rarely do.
"It's not that we're not allowed to show sensitivity," Knell says, "it's just the way we are trained. The environment is very macho and so the minute anybody reveals a softer side, someone will make fun of that. Army humour is an acquired taste."
Colonel Simon Marr MBE, has been in uniform for 28 years and is a veteran of Afghanistan and desk duty in Whitehall. As a recent graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies, he has also written an award-winning dissertation on contemporary war poetry.
"It can often be seen as a dying form, given that we now live in a world of e-mail and blogging," he says, "but the evidence actually suggests the opposite, that poetry is as alive as it ever was. It is something we turn to in times of high emotion, and instinctively so, because you can express more in verse, and more succinctly, than in any other form."
Marr, who has several poems in "Heroes", writes, he says, "for the intellectual exercise of it". His are measured texts that manage to convey scorn and reprobation – over the bureaucracy of combat and the way it is reported back home – in a coolly understated fashion. "I like to comment on what I've seen, but I leave judgement to others," he says.
Whether these verses will stand the test of time, like their Great War counterparts, is not the concern of the book's editor, Captain John Jeffcock. "I'm more concerned with what other soldiers think of it than the poetry community," he says.
Knell, who will publish his own volume next year, says he would like the book to find its way into every soldier's pack; Marr believes this volume, and many like it, is part of our national heritage. "They have historical value, and are more powerful than any news item, or any film, on war ever could be," he says. "I hope they are read in 50 years' time." 

The poetry is in the pity

As a book of poems written by members of the British Armed forces is published, the soldier and poet James Jeffrey explains why he chose to record the horrors of war. The Independent - Friday, 28 October 2011

November marks both the release of the book Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets and the two-year point since I returned from Helmand province, Afghanistan, where I was attached to the Welsh Guards Battle Group during 2009.
Four of my poems are featured in the book and I am supportive of its launch and grateful to be included. Yet when I discovered the choice of title, my heart sank. The notion of heroism is the last thing motivating war poetry, be it mine or that written by the First World War poets I studied as a schoolboy. Underpinning such poetry is the urgent petition to reveal the truth that war is anything but heroic. It is a mess, bereft of the heroes of popular imagination. Afghanistan preceded by two Iraq tours forced me to confront that. And from it comes my poetry.
Previous war poetry has been written so well that I find myself questioning the use of even trying. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, among others, encapsulated the horrors of the First World War so viscerally: their poetry is insurmountable.
How, if that was the situation after the First World War, could it be any different with Iraq and Afghanistan? English poetry is still not fit to speak of heroes – rather, as Owen further stated: "All the poet can do today is to warn." My poem "Coward" attempts this by reflecting on the wounds of today's soldiers: "I see the surgeon's work/ The politician's choice/ The people's lot."
Sassoon, wounded twice, awarded the Military Cross and nominated for a Victoria Cross, had no time for poetic allusions to heroism. In 1917, despairing of what he had witnessed, he wrote a letter entitled "Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration". It was published in The Times on 31 July and read out in the House of Commons.
In it, he stated: "On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise."
Any reference to the heroic in Iraq and Afghanistan is a similar deception that disregards the agonies endured by both soldiers and civilians, which my poem "They Don't Seem to Realise" addresses: "It is indeed hard to say much/ Thinking of dead children/ The bags of scooped up flesh."
It appears that Owen and Sassoon's warnings have been lost among the din of today's heroic references and presentations glamourising combat. Recent book titles have included Dressed to Kill, Real Heroes: Courage Under Fire and In Foreign Fields: Heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The last example appears to draw on Rupert Brooke's oft-quote "The Soldier": "If I should die, think only this of me:/ That there's some corner of a foreign field/ that is for ever England." Brooke died before seeing action. It is likely his poetry would have shifted in tone if he had lived to witness the carnage of the First World War.
This what happened to Sassoon. At first, his poetry, like Brooke's, viewed war through a romantic lens. But the poetry for which he is remembered is not cited so widely as Brooke's more palatable words. Perhaps Sassoon's preoccupation with civilian complacency strikes too close to home:
"You love us when we're heroes, home on leave...
You believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace."
Owen is quoted more regularly, but often his poetry is co-opted for spurious jingoistic effect. Rarely do you encounter the last section of "Dulce et Decorum Est":
"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."
That "old lie" being that it is sweet and proper to die for one's country. Though the First World War poets may never be bettered, I feel there is a need to write poetry based on the fact that people have forgotten what those poets tried to convey. Their message needs to be applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, lest we become too enamoured with such hazardous pursuits.
I've tried to achieve this in my poems, while suggesting nothing heroic. "Coward" recounts how it feels to be back among society afterwards; "They Don't Seem to Realise" focuses on your family's reaction to your behaviour; and "Stretcher Case" recalls the evacuation from our camp of a young boy who had had his foot blown off: "He just lays there, no tears/ Mouth closed, face set, awaiting/ The next step of his tragedy."
Admittedly, "The Last Supper" comes closest to the heroic, being an elegiac account of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid, a bomb-disposal expert who worked for the Battle Group and was killed just before his tour ended. Ultimately, though, there is little I find heroic about his last moments, defusing a bomb: "All the way to where you could not turn back/ From the blinding hot blast demanding sacrifice/ Taking away the scruffy cheerful calm."
Despite the sorrows that persist, I believe that being in the military was about protecting what I loved. This is why I will always feel enormous pride at having served in the British Army even though, nowadays, I see children with their parents and suddenly feel like crying. This is both inconvenient and bewildering. I never saw a dead child in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I didn't see much, in fact, but things still stay with you – so I keep writing the poems.
James Jeffrey, a captain in The Queen's Royal Lancers, was attached to The Welsh Guards Battle Group in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick in 2009

Carol Ann Duffy – the newest of the bee poets

The poet laureate has joined Virgil and Sylvia Plath and plenty inbetween by celebrating the 'winged saviours' in verse

A bee hovers over a cherry blossom in Stuttgart, Germany
Bees – miraculous insects that have moved many a poet into action. Photograph: Uwe Anspach/AFP/Getty Images
When Carol Ann Duffy's first collection of new poems as poet laureate was published this month, she joined a long list of acclaimed scribes dating back to Roman poet Virgil who have eulogised the honeybee in verse for their social organisation, honey-making abilities or pollination services, or employed them as a potent metaphor and symbol.
In The Bees, Duffy's "winged saviours" – to borrow a phrase from another famous bee poet, Sylvia Plath – are woven throughout the collection to symbolise all that is good in the world and necessary to protect. In many of the poems she draws attention to the seriousness of their plight. In Virgil's Bees, for example, the poem she wrote in the Guardian for the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions, her clarion call to save the planet is to "guard them" [the bees] "the batteries of orchards, gardens".
People understand that bees are a barometer of the environment, that their demise is a warning system that our ecosystem is in jeopardy. Albert Einstein may never have actually said that if the bees disappear of the face of the earth man only has four years left to live, but its message resonates.
I'm no poetry critic and I find many poems inaccessible, but Duffy's bee collection is a heartfelt lyrical wake-up call to the dangers facing these miraculous insects and, by extension, humankind.
In Telling the Bees, she tries to impart the full horror of what dying bees means for humanity with the ending, "No honey for tea," which evokes those final haunting words, "Is there honey still for tea?" from Rupert Brooke's famous First World War poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a paean to the safety and civility of England.
Ariel is Duffy's fierce attack on intensive agriculture's pesticides and monoculture that are threatening bees. "Where the bee sucks, neonicotinoid insecticides in a cowslip's bell lie," she warns, describing its systemic nature as "sheathing the seed" and "seething in the orchards", while the land is "monotonous with cereals and grain".
I never thought when I became a beekeeper that it would widen my appreciation of poetry, and open up a new world of celestial creatures bearing honey as a gift of heaven, (to paraphrase the Virgil in his beekeeping thesis, Georgics IV).
Neither did I expect when I was researching my book A World Without Bees that poetry would come to mind as I witnessed 40,000 white hives lying empty and silent in what looked like a mass grave in the Californian desert. But it was Sylvia Plath's 1962 poem, The Arrival of the Bee Box, where she compares a new beehive to the coffin of a baby, that lingered.
Award-winning poet Jo Shapcott told me that A World Without Bees had inspired some of the poems she wrote for last year's Poetry of Bees, an event commissioned by the City of London Festival and Poet in the City 2010 One of the poems was specifically on the mysterious bee killer, colony collapse disorder.
Now that poets have joined the bee rescue party, we would do well to head their warnings. In Duff's cautionary poem, The Human Bee, of people pollinating orchards by hand when all the bees have been killed – as happened in the southern Sichuan province of China following pesticide poisoning – her protagonist, The Human Bee, laments: "But I could not fly, and I made no honey." It perfectly illustrates how we can never replace nature's master pollinator.
• Alison Benjamin is co-author of A World Without Bees and Bees in the City

Page in the Life: Jeanette Winterson

While Jeanette Winterson's first novel found humour in her strange childhood, a new memoir reveals its true pain, finds Tanya Gold.

'I would have ended up with my spray tan and my boob job in Manchester': Jeanette Winterson
'I would have ended up with my spray tan and my boob job in Manchester': Jeanette Winterson Photo: Andrew Crowley
The real Jeanette Winterson is smaller than the Jeanette Winterson in my head. Why am I surprised? Was I expecting a 100ft-high Jeanette Winterson, floating like a comedy balloon above me? Perhaps I was, because I have just read her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? The Jeanette Winterson in her book is vast and eternal. But this one – the real one – is 5ft and tiny, with spiky brown hair. She is well dressed and friendly and utterly unsurprising, this woman who walked out of a book.
The memoir is a companion to her first and most famous novel – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – and it feels like Oranges: the Truth. Her debut was a comic novel about what it was like to be adopted by two missionaries in Lancashire in the late Fifties. Mother (always Mrs Winterson in print) was vicious and half-mad, locking Jeanette in the coalhole or out on the step. Father was passive and tormented by his D-Day memories. Jeanette, in the way of children of unhappy marriages, was supposed to save them. When she couldn’t, her mother hated her for it, and when Jeanette had a lesbian affair at 16 she had her exorcised (yes, exorcised) and threw her out. A kindly English teacher helped her to Oxford University; no wonder so much of her fiction feels like a fairy tale.
Oranges, as everyone calls it, made her famous at 24, a celebrity “lesbian” author, who filled gossip columns for 15 years, before literary London turned on her and she ran away: the backlash was another incomprehensible abandonment. Oranges is a slick, witty book, with a preacher telling Bible stories in fuzzy felt and with invented friends, because the real Winterson, as she wrote later, “was always lonely”.
Full piece at The Telegraph.

And story at The Guardian

Shaped by reading material

By Zoe Walker - Viva magazine, NZ Herald -Wednesday Oct 26, 2011

A picture tells 1000 words but frequently it is the written word that inspires the imagination. Viva fashion writer Zoe Walker explores how characters described in fiction have influenced her - and fashion trends - through the years.

Book cover of DV by Diana Vreeland. Photo / Babiche Martens

Book cover of DV by Diana Vreeland. Photo / Babiche Martens

"But my mind is wandering. It is a question of clothes. This is what humiliates me - talking of compliments - to walk in Regent St, Bond St, etc and be notably less well-dressed than other people." - The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 3

Film and art may continue to be the most common cultural influences on fashion, but it is the impact of literature that has always intrigued me.
The idea of a genuine interpretation of a writer's portrayal rather than a straight literal homage of art or film appeals most - and there have been many memorable fashionable literary interpretations.
Kate Sylvester's winter 2005 collection, Love in a Cold Climate, looked to Nancy Mitford and her endlessly stylish sisters; Prabal Gurung's autumn 2011 line drew inspiration from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, while Marc Jacobs considers Daisy Buchanan to be his ultimate literary muse and has referenced her several times throughout his career - his perfume Daisy the most obvious, and his spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection, described by one magazine as "Daisy goes to the disco", the most recent.
Literature is rife with sartorial inspiration, with the illustrations and prose of childhood classics sparking that initial interest in costume and awareness of the power of clothing - the black robes of a villain, the beautiful gowns of a princess.

Zoe the Doll by Michele Danon-Marcho, given to me as a young child for obvious reasons, was surely the root of my ongoing obsession with Peter Pan collars; Zoe's wardrobe of pretty dresses could pass now for something from Luella or Twenty-seven Names.
Then there was Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline, still a favourite after all these years - oh, how I longed to be her with her red hair, wide-brimmed hat and bright blue coat (and again, a Peter Pan collar). And, like most bookish little girls entering Louisa May Alcott's world for the first time, I fell for the tomboyish charm of Little Women's Jo and still think of her "scribbling suit" when I sit down to write. ("Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for, till that was finished, she could find no peace. Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woollen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action.")
There was another, somewhat less classic, bookish literary character that provided some childhood inspiration too: Sweet Valley High's Elizabeth Wakefield.
Pascal's infamous description of Elizabeth and her twin Jessica, repeated in every single book - the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling, blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin, spectacular, all-American good looks, identical lavaliers they wore on gold chains around their necks - is forever ingrained into my psyche and reads rather hilariously like a modern-day celebrity profile.
Read the rest of Zoe Walker's interesting piece at the NZH.

Didion Nearly Scrapped New Memoir

Oct 29, 2011 The Book Beast

‘Blue Nights,’ about daughter Quintana, is a tragic story that is compelling as a thriller—but it was almost abandoned halfway through. Joan Didion tells Susan Cheever why.

About halfway through writing Blue Nights, her enchanting evocation of the life of her daughter, Quintana, Joan Didion stopped cold. The book was a portrait of Quintana from her birth and adoption in 1966 to her 2005 death following a massive brain hematoma in New York Hospital. But there were parts of Quintana’s story that Didion did not want to tell.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to finish this, I don’t have to finish this book,’” she tells me as we sit in her Upper East Side living room one afternoon drinking tea from flowered cups. The room is deliciously crowded with books, photographs, and mementos—things Didion once treasured for the memories they evoked. “In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment,” she writes in the book. “In fact they only serve to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
Didion decided to return her advance to Alfred A. Knopf and abandon the book, which is titled after the long blue twilights of spring. “I thought, ‘I can just give the money back,’” she explains. Her agent and friend Lynn Nesbit suggested that she finish the book first and then talk about whether to publish it. Other friends urged her on. Didion tells me she finally looked at her book contract and saw how much she would have to return. “I could have bought an apartment with it,” she says. So she went back to writing the book.
book-didion-blue-nightsIn the book, Didion was telling the mythic story of a beloved princess blessed with beauty, wit, and talent; she was avoiding the moment when a malevolent fate descends like a bad fairy to collect on a curse put on the beautiful young child. Quintana was not at a spinning wheel when it happened, or biting into a poisoned Honeycrisp; the news came by FedEx. An already fragile 32-year-old, Quintana discovered that her mother, who had given her up for adoption, had later married her biological father and had two more children, whom she kept. “On a Saturday morning when she was alone in her apartment and vulnerable to whatever good or bad news arrived at her door, the perfect child received a Federal Express letter from a young woman who convincingly identified herself as her sister,” Didion writes. Didion doesn’t blame the biological sister, who had hired a detective to find Quintana; she doesn’t have to.

joan-didion-cheever-boxBefore this discovery and Quintana’s disturbing reunion with the clueless sister and the mother who had abandoned her, Didion, husband John Gregory Dunne, and their daughter had led a charmed life. In the summer of 2003, Quintana married Gerald Michael in a glorious celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Within a few months, Quintana fell ill, first with the flu and then pneumonia, and soon the family slid into an unimaginable cascade of tragedy and loss. After a visit to an unconscious Quintana in the hospital, Dunne died of a heart attack on the night of Dec. 30, 2003. Quintana partially recovered and then faltered again, and finally stopped breathing in 2005. Didion, who wrote about her husband in her bestselling 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, had lost her child less than two years after her husband’s death.
Full story including video clip at The Daily Beast

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Samuel Beckett’s Midgame

By DENIS DONOGHUE = New York Times -Published: October 28, 2011

Edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More OverbeckTranslations by George Craig
Illustrated. 791 pp. Cambridge University Press. US$50.

Samuel Barclay Beckett was born in Foxrock, south of Dublin, in the spring of 1906 — there’s a dispute about the precise date; he died in Paris on Dec. 22, 1989. Over a period of 60 years, he wrote more than 15,000 letters. The editors of “The Letters of Samuel Beckett” plan to publish, in four volumes, their choice of about 2,500 letters in full, and to cite a further 5,000 in their copious annotations. The letters in French are given in the original, then translated into English. The first volume, the letters of 1929-40, was published in 2009.

Samuel Beckett in 1970.Reg Lancaster/Express, via Getty Images
The subtitle of the new collection, “Volume II: 1941-1956,” is a bit misleading. For good reason, there were no letters between June 10, 1940, and Jan. 17, 1945. On June 12, 1940, two days before the German Army occupied Paris, Beckett and his partner, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil — many years later his wife — left the city, going first to Vichy and eventually to Arcachon, where they contrived to live for three months. In mid-September they took the risk of returning to their old apartment in Paris. On Sept. 1, 1941, Beckett joined the Resistance, a section of the British Special Operations Executive: it was his job to receive and type up messages about the movement of German troops, messages that would then be sent to the British. In September 1942, once the section was broken by a spy, Beckett and Suzanne went on the run, got into unoccupied France, and after weeks fertile in vicissitudes settled in Roussillon d’Apt in the Vaucluse. They stayed there for two years until the liberation of Paris on Aug. 25, 1944. There was no question of writing letters or receiving them. On Oct. 12, 1944, Beckett returned to his apartment. The first letter of the second volume is dated Jan. 17, 1945.
The years in Paris after the war were nearly impossible. Beckett and Suzanne were dirt-poor. The money his father left him had dwindled to a pittance by the time it arrived in France. How he wrote anything is a puzzle. He wrote his novel “Watt” during the war, but getting it published was misery; it took years. In March 1949, to escape from the hubbub of Paris, Beckett and Suzanne rented a room for almost nothing in a house in Ussy-sur-Marne, a village about 35 miles from Paris. There he was able to write, and in the afternoons to garden, plant trees and take long walks with Suzanne. On June 1, 1949, he reported to his friend Georges Duthuit:
“One evening as we were on our way back to Ussy, at sunset, we suddenly found ourselves being escorted by ephemerids of a strange kind, ‘mayflies,’ I think. They were all heading in the same direction, literally following the road, at about the same speed as us. It was not a solar tropism, for we were going south. In the end I worked out that they were all going towards the Marne to be eaten by the fish, after making love on the water.”  
Rest at New York Times.