Thursday, January 31, 2013

Interesting clutch of NZ titles from Scholastic

 Two fun board books for the youngest members of the family. Murray Ball needs no introduction and of course The Cat's Pyjamas standard edition won the NZ Post Children’s Choice Award last year.  rrp $13.50

 Another in the My New Zealand Stories series of vividly imagined accounts of life in the past, this one in April 1968. rrp $18.50
Now out in paperback and issued in time for Anzac Day, David Hill's moving story so brilliantly illustrated by Fifi Colson. Published in both English and Maori,

New Zealand Book Council - Books to watch out for in early 2013

The number of fiction books due for release in the first half of this year is both exciting and impressive. Tanya Moir's aptly titled second novel Anticipation is due out in March. It is a dark and humorous novel about family history and the power and risk of knowledge. Keep an eye out for our February e-newsletter to enjoy a Q&A with her about the book. After reading Aorewa McLeod's memoir piece in the most recent Sport, I can see why I'm not alone in looking forward to picking up a copy of Who Was That Woman Anyway? Snapshots of a Lesbian Life.. Dim Post blogger Danyl 
McLauchlan participated in our most recent True Stories Told Live storytelling cabaret here in Wellington. He told a hilarious tale about an attempted seduction involving wasabi laced sushi. If this true story is anything to go by his new novel Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley is bound to be a rollicking good read. Donna Malane's My Brother's Keeper is in bookshops now, and it's the NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize winner's second thrilling novel featuring missing persons expert Diane Rowe. You can watch a short clip of Malane talking about her inspiration for the book's setting and characters here.

New Zealand poetry is pumping too, with new books due out by some of our best poets, as well as a number of exciting debut collections. I would say the following list of names is quite a recommendation on its own: C. K. Stead, Paula Green, John Newton, Elizabeth Smither, Ian Wedde, Therese Lloyd, Elizabeth Nannestad, and Maria McMillan (to name a generous handful).

Read the full feature on the Book Council's blog Open Book.

Gecko Press titles get star-rated in US

See these  the links for two excellent (starred) reviews of recent Gecko Press titles in the US Publishers Weekly. 
It is wonderful to observe that Gecko Press is gaining good momentum not only in New Zealand and Australia but in the UK and the US too!

Graeme Simsion - author of The Rosie Project - in profile

The Age - January 26, 2013

A novel approach to finding an audience for his script led to a very unexpected, and very happy, outcome, writes Jason Steger.
Author Geaeme Simsion . Shrewd moves ... Simsion's book, The Rosie Project , was produced as a means to getting his script noticed and interest has snowballed. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

About this time last year, Graeme Simsion had a script he'd been plugging away at as part of a screenwriting course at Melbourne's RMIT University. It was going well - he had won an Australian Writers' Guild award for the best romantic comedy script and sent it to a New York agent, with no joy, but a local producer, Roslyn Walker, had taken out an option. Things were looking pretty good.
Today things are looking even better. We are sitting in his Fitzroy home talking not about that script but rather his novel, which will be published in Australia next week and over the coming months around the world - at this stage publishing rights have been sold to 32 countries for about $1.8 million.
Simsion wrote the novel for one reason: ''It was a question of how do you get a script noticed and one of the ideas that gets kicked around in screenwriting circles is get it published as a novel first.''
The Rosie Project tells the story of Professor Don Tillman, geneticist, probable Asperger's sufferer, socially awkward and a disaster with women. First dates are invariably catastrophic - if he can get that far. But Don wants a partner and with the help of his best friend Gene, whose own project is to have sex with a woman from every country in the world, devises a questionnaire: ''A purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time-wasters, the disorganised, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual-harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers, the fashion obsessives, the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate, the homeopaths, leaving, ideally, the perfect partner, or, realistically, a manageable shortlist of candidates.''
Don is utterly idiosyncratic in his habits. He eats the same meal on particular days, plans his activities by the minute and hates to deviate from his timetable. He wears clothes built for comfort and ease of washing rather than any feeling for style.
He christens his questionnaire the ''Wife Project'', but things go awry when he meets Rosie, a completely unsuitable student from the project point of view but whom he agrees to help identify her biological father after the death of her mother. All that is known is that on her graduation night and before she married, Rosie's mother had a one-night stand with someone in the same class. The two decide to test the DNA of all those in a photo taken that night to solve the mystery.
Simsion admits the events of the past year seem extraordinary, like ''living the dream''.

Read more:

Barry Humphries becomes Patron of Honour of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB)

ILABBarry Humphries, AO, CBE, the Australian comedian, satirist, artist, and author has been appointed a Patron of Honour by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).  The appointment recognises his major contribution to the antiquarian book trade.

Mr Humphries graciously accepted the honorary position following a joint invitation from the Presidents of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA) in the United Kingdom and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB): Laurence Worms and Sally Burdon.  He joins a select body which includes Sir David Attenborough and Umberto Eco.

Mr Humphries is perhaps best known for his stage and television alter ego Dame Edna Everage.  He is also a film producer and scriptwriter, a star of London's West End musical theatre, an award-winning writer, an accomplished landscape painter and a prominent book collector.  Mr Humphries has spent much of his life immersed in music, literature and the arts.  A self-proclaimed 'bibliomaniac', his house in London supposedly contains some 25,000 books, many of them first editions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The ILAB is a global network for the rare book trade and represents 1860 of the world’s finest antiquarian booksellers in 32 countries. 

Ibookcollector © is published by Rivendale Press
To Contact Ibookcollector 

At Elizabeth David's Table

Elizabeth David is the food writer to whom Britain owes a great deal as she is the woman who almost single-handedly changed the face of British food and cooking in a dreary post-war country. She introduced food such as paella, hummus, ratatouille, moussaka and of course olive oil, pasta, artichokes and fresh herbs. Around the world her recipes and her wonderful  writing continues to inspire even today, 60 plus years since she published her first cookery book, A Book of Mediterranean Food. 

I talked to Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand this morning about At Elizabeth David’s Table which is is a collection of her best everyday recipes compiled by renowned writer/editor/publisher Jill Norman, who was David’s long-time editor at Penguin when I met her and who since 1992 has been the literary executor of her estate.

Jill Norman has carefully created a book which has 12 chapters of recipes – from starters through to sweet things – interlaced with short essays from Elizabeth David, many of which originally appeared in her books and also magazines. This appealing blend gives interest beyond the average cookbook. And of course for the first time David's recipes are accompanied by photographs.  

Praise must also go to the photographer David Loftus  The photography is in muted colours and features the earthenware pots and plain white china that Elizabeth David favoured. I am sure she would have approved.

As the owner of many many cookbooks I have to say this one has already become a great favourite and is a joy both to cook from and just to kick back and read. .
She is surely the greatest food writer of our times.

Not sure how long Radio NZ leave their interviews on-line but it is there presently if you have 10 minutes to spare and would like to hear a longer piece about this special book.

Powerhouse of Emerging Talent Hits the Road

Be prepared to meet a powerhouse of emerging talent as three debut writers hit the road in March touring the lower North Island, meeting new readers and talking about writing.

Fiction writers Pip Adam (top) and Kirsten McDougall (centre)and poet Ashleigh Young (bottom) will be undertaking the Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour from 12–23 March. They will stop in Masterton, Palmerston North, Napier, Whanganui, and Paekakariki, visiting bookstores, galleries, and public libraries.

At each stop-off, local writers – including Pat White, Tim Upperton, Marty Smith, Tina Makereti, Helen Heath, and Lynn Jenner – will join the tour to read from their work. The writers expect some lively discussion to come out of these gatherings.

‘We want these events to inspire people, and get them talking not just about our work, but about the fantastic new writing that’s being made in New Zealand at present,’ says Kirsten McDougall, author of The Invisible Rider (VUP, 2012).

The three writers conceived of the tour as a way to take their work to an audience beyond Wellington.

‘As first time writers, our work is largely unknown,’ says Pip Adam, author of Everything We Hoped For (VUP, 2010). ‘We weren’t content to sit around and wait. We wanted to get out of Wellington and meet new readers ourselves.’

Ashleigh Young, author of Magnificent Moon (VUP, 2012), says: ‘I think writers can have a hard time getting out of their comfort zones. But as with any job you love, it’s good to break the routine and emerge from the cave now and then.’

The three writers have made impressive starts to their careers. Adam was recently awarded a 2012 NZ Arts Foundation New Generation Award. McDougall and Young have received rave reviews for their first books and were both included the NZ Listener Best Books of 2012 review.

The Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour is funded by Creative New Zealand. Admission is free. All welcome.

Tour schedule and writer bios attached below.

For more information, please contact:
Kirsten McDougall, ph. 021 165 8250

Savaging Primitives: Why Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’ Is Completely Wrong

Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday, is completely wrong, writes Stephen Corry. Diamond argues that industrialized people  (‘modern’) can learn from tribal peoples (‘traditional’) because they show how everyone lived until a few thousand years ago. Corry agrees that ‘we’ can learn from tribes, but counters they represent no more of a throwback to our past than anyone else does. He shows that Diamond’s other—and dangerous—message is that most tribes engage in constant warfare. According to Diamond, they need, and welcome, state intervention to stop their violent behavior. Corry argues that this is merely a political opinion, backed by questionable and spurious data. He sees Diamond’s position as one of supporting colonial ideas about ‘pacifying savages’ and says it is factually and morally wrong.

I ought to like this book: after all, I have spent decades saying we can learn from tribal peoples, and that is, or so we are told, Jared Diamond’s principal message in his new “popular science” work, The World Until Yesterday. But is it really?

‘The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?’ by Jared Diamond. 512 p. Viking Adult. $20.89 (General Photographic Agency/Getty)

Diamond has been commuting for 50 years between the U.S. and New Guinea to study birds, and he must know the island and some of its peoples well. He has spent time in both halves, Papua New Guinea and Indonesian‐occupied West Papua. He is in no doubt that New Guineans are just as intelligent as anyone, and he has clearly thought a lot about the differences between them and societies like his, which he terms Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (“WEIRD”). He calls the latter “modern.”

Full article

Brilliant debut crime fiction novel

Published by Doubleday - $29.99
Note publication is this Friday, 1 February.

I was so impressed with this first novel by 24 year old Roger Hobbs. His writing style is something of a cross between that of Lee Child and Elmore Leonard - fast, intriguing and suspenseful with great dialogue.

I am not surprised to learn that film rights have been acquired by Warner Brothers in a very substantial deal. The producer, Kevin McCormick, is the former chief executive for Warner Bros and has already hired an A-list screenwriter. 

Here is a recent interview with the author which the publishers have kindly supplied. It serves to give you an idea of the story. I found the book hard to put down and read it in three long sessions. It runs to 324 pages. The story takes place over 48 hours.

Q: What exactly is a GHOSTMAN?
A: When a crew of criminals plans a heist, each person has a different role to play. There are probably a couple of roles you know already. The wheelman is the guy who drives the getaway car. The boxman knows how to open locks and safes. The bagman carries the cash and takes transportation risks. There are a couple you probably don’t know, either. The guy who plans the heist is called the jugmarker. The thug who carries the guns is called the buttonman.

A ghostman can be useful in a myriad of criminal enterprises—identity theft, corporate espionage, armed robberies, bank fraud, drug distribution—and is responsible for anything that requires a disappearing act. In short, he’s an expert in the subtle and challenging art of getting away with it. His job is to make sure nobody gets caught.

Q: When and how did you first get the idea for this novel?
A: I first got this idea the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was walking home late one night after a movie when I stumbled across an armoured car depot. Now, this doesn’t look like you think it should—it doesn’t have thick brick walls, rows of security cameras or a bunch of security guards sitting around playing poker. No, it looks like an office building with a bunch of armoured cars parked out front.

Being naturally curious, I thought I’d have a look. I walked around for a bit and after a while, finally worked up the nerve to touch one. As soon as I did, I felt like I was struck by lightning. Instantly my brain was full of different ideas about how I could rob it. I must have spent an hour out there in the dark, examining every part of that car. I noted all the features and considered all the weaknesses. That night I went home and wrote the first chapter of GHOSTMAN.

Q: Tell us a little about Jack Delton and how you developed his character?
A: Jack is a man with an extraordinary, one-in-a-million talent: he is completely unmemorable. You could walk by him on the street every day for a year and never remember his face. He doesn’t have a name anyone knows, he doesn’t have a look, he doesn’t have a bank account. No credit card, no social-security number, no web profile. He’s nobody, and he’s anybody. If he needs to drive, he can be a driver. If he needs to fight, he can be a fighter. He can become anyone he needs to be in the blink of an eye.

This talent—his unremarkablity—is the very first thing I ever knew about his character. I developed him as a person around this idea. What sort of things does a man with no identity do? What does he like? How does he go about his day? Jack is a tough guy and a hardened criminal, but I wanted my readers to sympathize with his unusual, and somewhat melancholy, existence.

Q: You wrote this novel while in college and in fact sent it to your (now) agent on the day you graduated. When did you start writing and were you always drawn to crime stories?
A: I’ve been writing since I was twelve. Since then I’ve written seven full-length novels, two plays, a few screenplays and a pack of spec scripts for television. I have been writing four hours a day, every day, for ten years. I feel like I have to write or I’ll go crazy. It’s in my blood. I didn’t start thinking about crime fiction, however, until I read Robert Crais’s The Monkey's Raincoat when I was sixteen years old. The voice in that book was so wonderful that I immediately started writing my own private investigator novel. After that I moved on to other authors that I thought had strong, dark writing styles. I ate up everything from Dashiell Hamett to James Ellroy to Lee Child. I was most attracted to novels where the main characters were criminals themselves, like Donald Westlake’s Parker novels. I loved the idea of getting away with it, so I thought I’d try to write a book that could share that incredible sense of fear and excitement I’d come to love

Q: Okay, you obviously know an awful lot about staging a heist—starting with how the Fed prints money and transports and safe-guards it in armoured trucks, to guns and explosives and how the person driving the getaway car plots the best escape route. How did you learn about these things?
A: First things first, I should say that most of the things you need to know to become a world class criminal mastermind are on the Internet. It isn’t stuff you can just put into Google, but it’s there if you know where to look. There are hidden sites on the deep web with forums on every criminal topic you can imagine. Blow up a car? You got it. Bloodstain pattern analysis? A whole course. Disable a silent alarm? Absolutely. Most of the research I did for GHOSTMAN happened while I was sitting right here in front of this pale blue glowing computer screen.

But not all of it. The Internet could only get me so far, so I went on a lot of field trips. In order to study the monetary process, I toured the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, where I was allowed to walk around and observe hundreds of millions in new bills get ready for circulation. I went to dive bars all around the country where I interviewed active criminals and traded secrets for cigarettes. I did a two-week training course with the NRA out in the mountains to learn the inner workings of firearms. I taught myself to pick locks and hotwire cars in the parking lot of my dorm block. I exchanged emails with a professional forger in the UK who specialized in passports and Eastern European driver’s licenses. I talked online with a working hitman. Of course not everything in GHOSTMAN is accurate, but I did my best to make it all feel real.

Q: What did you learn in your research that surprised you the most?
A: The most surprising thing I learned in the course of my research was just how rare intelligently committed crimes really are. A world-class crook might pull off two large-scale jobs in his or her entire life, because anybody with the brains to plan a complicated, successful heist could make twice as much money in half the time by dealing drugs instead. Also, bank robberies have an astoundingly high chance of getting solved by the police second in fact, only to murder.

Q: Are you really 24 or are you a really good ghostman yourself?
A: Part of me wants to be a ghostman. I think everyone, at one point or another, has wanted to do what Jack does. Everyone has fantasized about getting up and leaving and never coming back. A ghostman is a living incarnation of that fantasy. His identity is fluid, so he can change himself to fit any situation. Whenever things get too hairy, or a little boring, he can sever all ties, pack a few things in an overnight bag and fly off to another part of the world. He can start over again as many times as he wants without any consequences. Of course there is a high price for this lifestyle. A ghostman can’t celebrate Christmas at home with his family, or make friends, or fall in love. The ghostman wakes up every morning and chooses who he wants to be, but as a result he can never become anything more than what he already is.

Q: So what’s next for you? Without giving away the ending of the book can you tell us if we’ll see any of the characters from GHOSTMAN again?
A: I’m already hard at work on a sequel to GHOSTMAN. This adventure finds Jack at odds with his old mentor, with the biggest payday of their lives on the line. I can’t say much about it, but I will say that the events of GHOSTMAN have big repercussions on Jack’s world. He'll have to use every ounce of his wits to avoid getting caught this time, especially when he has to choose between safety and loyalty

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roger Hobbs is 24 years old and completed the first draft of this novel while still a senior at Reed College. He has worked as a radio host, a rifle range instructor, a note-taker and a security guard. He is a recent graduate of Reed College. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

A selection of poetry reviews by Siobhan Harvey

Auē Rona
Reihana Robinson
Steele Roberts, $25

Inaugural recipient of the Te Atairangikaahu Award for Poetry, author, artist and organic farmer Reihana Robinson follows up her featured status in AUP New Poets 3 (Auckland University Press, 2008) with a vibrant and inventive first full collection, Auē Rona.  Part cosmological revivification of the Maori legend of Rona and the Moon, part feminist allegory, part edgy, cadent testimony, Auē Rona mixes the contemporary with the historical, the factual with the fabled as the resurrected titular heroine charts her way through modern life. As such, the core of the book is framed by verse with such evocative titles as ‘Rona does the hula’, ‘Rona’s descendants: Raro Taro’, ‘Rona mourns’ and ‘Rona wants’, the latter poem giving an insight into the texture, thematic focus and linguistic play of the broader work:

I want to
be that glow.

I want to
climb into her headdress
in broad daylight.

I want
a world lit and glowing.

I want to feel claws
on my scarecrow arms.

I want to jostle against,
a different kind of silence.

I want hollow drums, soft
patches, clumps of vegetation.

I want to feaze daylight.

The liberated, street-beat, street-smart subject matter is evident elsewhere in poems like ‘Indian sister’, ‘What the stars say’ and ‘Maori creation’. Reminiscent of Tusiata Avia’s collection, Bloodclot (Victoria University Press, 2009), Auē Rona examines modern womanhood through the re-forging of tales from the past. Along the way, cultural belonging and personal sensuality are microscoped. All this and a cover (plus additional images) by New Zealand (of Maori and German descent) artist Noa Noa von Bassewitz make for a superb first book.

Old Hat: A Book of Triolets
Mark Pirie
HeadworX Press, $20

Another reworking of tradition (this time of form rather than topic) finds poet, editor, anthologist, archivist and publisher, Mark Pirie updating the poetic mode, the triolet. Like the villanelle and rondeau, the triolet belongs to old French poetic forms which begun life as songs recited by peasant farmers to each other whilst sewing and tilling the fields. With an emphasis upon the oral (and thus upon the rhythmic) and the amusing, the triolet possesses a witty, vibrant succinctness well utilised in recent years by prominent poets like Wendy Cope. Pirie adapts the triolet to the New Zealand land, mores and language, as evident in the early poem, ‘In Thorndon’:

Birds call and cats fight;
   I sit and listen
In Thorndon at night.

   Birds call and cats fight;
It’s nearly moonlight
   Here where trees glisten.

Birds call and cats fight
   In Thorndon at night.

Old Hat is a collection of close to 40 triolets, with Pirie not only outlining his literary engagement with the form in an astute ‘Introduction’ but modernising the conventions of the triolet through verse devoted to both the famous (Margaret Mahy, Usain Bolt, Dorothy Parker..) and his interests (cricket, rock music…..).  May Old Hat revive an interest in the triolet amongst many more poets.

King Willow: Selected Poems by Robert J Pope
Mark Pirie (Editor)
HeadworX, $30

When not writing triolets, Mark Pirie’s been busy researching the life and rejuvenating the work of one of our ‘lost’ voices, Robert J, Pope. Pope was a popular New Zealand poet and songwriter from the early 1900s until the end of the Second World War, and apart from writing verse which actively engaged with the major cultural and international events of the day (the rise of Fascism in Europe, the 1924-5 Invincibles tour of England and France, the first Labour Government), he also penned a number of influential songs, particular those recited in schools like New Zealand, My Homeland. The importance of Pope to this era, as witness and recorder, can’t be underestimated, and in not only resurrecting this significance of the man but faithfully gathering his oeuvre, Pirie in King Willow: Selected Poems does a meritorious task, and edits an interesting and indispensable book for aficionados of New Zealand poetry, past and present. Another fine and thorough ‘Introduction’ by Pirie leads the reader through a heady throng of poems and songs. The title page to the anthology details this selection as ‘No. 1 in the HeadworX Classic Poetry Series’. On the strength of King Willow, I can’t wait to see which forgotten poet Pirie next restores to our literary consciousness. 

Marion Jones
Steele Roberts, $20

Dunedin poet, Marion Jones’ second collection, Reflections is a delicately woven and satisfying story about memory and dysfunction.  Over the course of three sections, she charts the journey of the early years, escapisms and returns of a bright narrator constrained by the guilt of the death of her mother in childbirth, her father’s distance and her stepmother’s brittleness. Through poems such as ‘Balloons’, ‘Dog at the door’, ‘Never told’, ‘Flood’ and others, Jones crafts a series of credible characters fractured by the strictures of the blended family and old-fashioned values. Throughout language and imagery provide spark and the possibility of catharsis, as in the latter poem, ‘A crack’:
Along her back wall,
a crack angles from
the ground in an arch.
Beneath, a geranium
twines a lattice attached
to the rough-cast. Lower
yet, a gash in the plaster
exposes a net of chicken
wire beneath. Until her
children no longer cling
and bloom and climb,
the fissure will remain
a feature of the house.

This collection maps landscape as much as whanau, with poems sited by topography near and far, including Mount Hood, Opoho Hill, Taiaroa Heads, Los Angeles, Kazakhstan and so forth.  Always what it means to have a home is considered and re-evaluated – a place of extrication? a place of safety? a place of soul? a place of itinerancy? A rewarding read.

My Family & Other Strangers
Laurice Gilbert
Academy Aotearoa Press, $12

From one examination of family to another with poet and New Zealand Poetry Society National Coordinator, Laurice Gilbert’s My Family & Other Strangers. Gilbert’s book is shorter than Jones’ but packs no less poetic punch. The whanau here isn’t the family tattered by dysfunction, but the family bonded by quirkiness. Through poems such as ‘Strangers’, ‘Life is a Grocery Store’, ‘Safe at Home’ and ‘Family Snapshot’, Gilbert builds a picture of an unconventional family. Along the way, paternity, sibling fraternity and rivalry, maturing and loss are explored. Often the inventiveness the author uses in her thematic approaches is paralleled by a skillful deployment of poetic form which includes a villanelle, prose-poem and pantoum. In ‘Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun In My Handbag’ Gilbert also displays an adept engagement with the work of other poets (here, American poet Billy Collins’ ‘Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House’):

I’m tempted to depict my mother-in-law as barking.
Whenever we meet she doggedly insists
on establishing her position as matriarch,
sharing family anecdotes she’s made up,
or misconstrued, or simply lost the gist.

Her son, heir to his late father’s sanity genes,
books a long overdue duty trip to Taupo.
After five chocolate-filled road trip hours
my buttons come alive:
sparking, sparring, scarring.

I wish I could turn her off as I arrive.
She asks my husband where I will sleep.
Scorning the spare double bed
as too wretchedly hot to share, has already
set up a stretcher for me in ‘his’ room…

Along the way, as in collection’s second section, ‘Vincent – an autobiography’, the eccentricity of the familial is distinguished by the intimacy of the isolate, the challenges of being daughter, sister and mother is contrasted with the trials of being an artist. At $12, this is a steal.

About the reviewer
Siobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection, Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts NZ, 2011), the book of literary interviews Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion (Cape Catley, 2010) and the poetry anthology Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House, 2009). Recently, her poetry has been published in Evergreen Review (Grove Press, US), Meanjin (Aus), Penduline Press – The New Zealand Issue (US), Snorkel (Aus) and Structo (UK). She’s Poetry Editor of Takahe and coordinates New Zealand's National Poetry Day. She was runner up in 2012 Dorothy Porter Prize for Poetry (Aus), 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Prize, 2011 Landfall Essay Prize and 2011 Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems, and shortlisted for the 2012 Jane Frame Memorial Award for Literature. A Poet’s Page containing a selection of her recorded work and texts can be found on The Poetry Archive (U.K.), directed by Sir Andrew Motion.

Bought for £1, the mysterious tower that inspired JRR Tolkien

Charity needs £1m to turn Perrott's Folly, said to have inspired author, into centre for Birmingham community

Perrotts folly Edgbaston
Perrott's Folly in Edgbaston offers views over where JRR Tolkien lived and went to school. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

It wasn't the most promising of pitches: when Ben Bradley suggested that a homeless charity buy a derelict, windblown Georgian tower in a poor district of Birmingham he expected, and got, some blank looks.
The building is spectacular but perilous. It sways slightly in strong wind and its seven rooms – one on each storey – are the size of a hearth rug. But, said Bradley: "As it turned out, my CEO is a Tolkien fanatic, and so the deal was done."
The Trident Reach the People charity paid £1, and became proud owners of one of the oldest and most eccentric structures in Birmingham, a building better known in Japan than it is on the other side of the city.
The eyeball-shaped windows at the top of Perrott's Folly look down in one direction on where JRR Tolkien lived as a child, and in the opposite direction on the Oratory, where he went to school. It also gives a spectacular view of the other tower he passed twice a day, the gothic ornamented chimney of the Edgbaston waterworks, which in the writer's day would have belched smoke from the steam engines. To Tolkien true believers, there is no point looking further for the origins of the two sinister towers that loom over the world of his Lord of the Rings.
The folly stood at the heart of a magnificent park when it was built by a local eccentric, John Perrott, in 1758. The pragmatic explanation is that it was a hunting lodge and status symbol, but legends insist he built it to look yearningly at his wife's grave 15 miles away, or that when she was alive it allowed him spy on her trysts with her gamekeeper lover. Conspiracy theorists point to the Masonic symbols in the ornate plasterwork of the top room, and there are tales of secret passages and underground chambers.

Full piece at The Guardian

Grappling with Christopher Hitchens

Keith Miller examines a trenchant critique of the late Christopher Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens: In the pantheon of journalists?
Christopher Hitchens: In the pantheon of journalists? 
The journalist, essayist and public speaker Christopher Hitchens, who died just over a year ago of oesophageal cancer, was no slouch when it came to the gentle art of making enemies. Liberal isolationists, religious fanatics, female comedians – all felt the wrath of his bombast. On a more intimate level, he had a talent for tiffs and squabbles, takedowns and feuds, that made Truman Capote look like a Buddhist monk. So it would perhaps be surprising if his shade were allowed to rest in peace for long.

Unhitched by Richard Seymour (Verso, £9.99) is the first book to cast a cold eye on Hitchens’s career in the wake of his death, and assess its possible legacy. It won’t be the last; nor, probably, the best. But by being the first it – courageously, maybe – risks being seen as the nastiest, trundling off the presses while its subject is still a few degrees above room temperature. Seymour claims that Hitch was a hypocrite: that his writing, his political allegiances and, most notably, his friendships were marked by professions of loyalty, and acts of desertion.

It is from his memoir Hitch-22 that two main, and interrelated, themes of Unhitched are drawn: the lifelong melodrama of friendship, and the idea that political life consists of a series of actions and gestures rather than a coherent programme of belief and commitment. A good example of this is Hitchens’s belief that being waterboarded for a story added the tiniest microgramme of weight to his opinion that it should be allowed in a country that claimed to be not only civilised, but also competent to export its civilisation overseas by force of arms.
That the second theme inflects on the first can be seen from the Rushdie affair, when the targeting of a British author by religious fundamentalists galvanised what had hitherto been a fairly lukewarm affection for Rushdie on Hitchens’s part – and vulcanised his opposition to hardline religious belief. It can also be seen in his repudiation of Edward Said (Hitchens’s hostile review of Said’s reissued Orientalism followed the latter’s death by about the same time-lag as Unhitched follows his); and in his denunciation of Sidney Blumenthal for perjuring himself in the Lewinsky inquisition, which cost him most of the few friends he still had on the American Left.

It’s the political triangulations that get Seymour’s blood boiling. A pattern of discarding causes when they ceased to be expedient, a willingness to kiss up to power while emitting torrents of bluster about his lonely duty to speak truth to it, can be identified even in the salad days of Seventies Oxford. Hitchens is quite funny about his youthful double life in Hitch-22, swapping his donkey jacket for a dinner jacket on the hoof between the barricades at Cowley and High Table like some arriviste superhero (he was quite funny about lots of things, though he could be eye-gougingly unfunny when he tried to be funny). But Seymour sees Hitchens’s tragic last act – the alliance with the neo-cons, the borderline racism, the ghastly statements about cluster bombs – as inevitable. 

Full article at The Telegraph

Costa Book Award: who would dare refuse Hilary Mantel her crown?

Mantel does the double and claims the Costa Book Award for Bring Up the Bodies.

Hilary Mantel Photo: David Rose
So it's Hilary Mantel, again. Bring Up the Bodies has won the overall Costa Book Award following Mantel's Man Booker victory in 2009 for Wolf Hall, and the same award for its sequel last year. It has beaten not only all the other novels of 2012, but also the best poetry collection, biography, first novel and children’s book. Mantel’s all-conquering Tudor saga, which last year sold 313,000 copies in this country, is well on the way to becoming a classic with a BBC and RSC adaptation already in the works.

Inevitably there will be grumbles from the sceptics. Was there really no other novel published in 2012 to compete with Bring Up the Bodies? How did Zadie Smith’s NW, her most accomplished work to date, miss out on even a measly shortlisting? What about Nicola Barker’s eccentrically hilarious The Yips? Then there are the whispered doubts about Bring Up and the Bodies itself. Longtime Mantel readers say her darkly experimental Beyond Black was a superior book. And does the Tudor setting with its familiar historical characters – Henry VIII and all that – make its popularity a form of easy nostalgia?

Maybe there’s some truth to that. The richness of its language and psychological penetration cannot hide the fact that Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies can be read as posh Philippa Gregory. I cannot also help thinking that given its now near-canonical reputation, the judges might have been a touch intimidated – refusing Thomas Cromwell, as the novels' readers will know, is by no means easy. One of the best other contenders, the graphic memoir Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot, is beautifully done and highly original. But like the first novel category winner Francesca Segal’s The Innocents – an astute and well-crafted take on Jewish North London – I cannot honestly say it deserved to steal Mantel’s crown.

With Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel has relaxed into the sequence, writing with greater economy and wit. The false notes in Wolf Hall – too much love for Cromwell, too little for his rival Thomas More – were muffled in the sequel by Cromwell’s growing ruthlessness and More’s death. The sequence in which Henry VIII falls from his horse while jousting and is suspected dead is especially brilliant. Even though you know the real historical outcome Mantel, like Shakespeare in his history plays, puts you in the shoes of participants who cannot have known how things would turn out.
Most pleasing, though, is the sheer joy Mantel takes in writing the books – something shared by her many readers. When was the last time a prize-winning book doubled as a holiday treat?

Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies: a middlebrow triumph

Winning the Costa prize says much about our hard times, but more about British literary culture in the age of the Kindle

Costa Book Of The Year Awards
Hilary Mantel’s win will give the trade much-needed commercial relief. Photograph: Stuart Wilson/Getty Images

Hilary Mantel's success with Bring Up the Bodies , the second volume of a projected trilogy devoted to the life and times of Henry VIII's chancellor Thomas Cromwell, marks an unprecedented grand slam: Booker followed by Costa, with the Women's Prize for Fiction beckoning. It's an outcome that says a lot about the Costa prize, even more about the hard times in which Bring Up the Bodies has been published, but perhaps most of all about British literary culture in the age of the Kindle.

A middlebrow triumph in a distinctly odd middlebrow prize by a dedicated writer who has struck a chord with the British reading public in a way that few English novelists have, this will certainly score a footnote in the history of early 21st-century British fiction.

Mantel's only serious competition came from the immensely gifted Scots poet Kathleen Jamie's exciting collection, The Overhaul – a lovely, lyrical celebration of Scottishness and the Scots tongue. The judges would indeed have been bold to make that their final choice. Costa juries, traditionally, tend to take only the most gilt-edged risks.

Bring Up the Bodies is unquestionably the bookies' and the booksellers' favourite. In an exceedingly tough commercial climate, with the surge of the Kindle and ebook, Mantel's win will give the trade a much-needed moment of commercial relief. First and last, it's a recession beater.

Such a verdict would probably not be its author's ambition. Mantel has made her career with fiction and non-fiction of stunning originality. Naturally brave, she has been the opposite of predictable. This novel, however, is nothing if not reassuring. First, it takes one of medieval England's greatest thrillers (the persecution, trial and death of Anne Boleyn) and gives it a clever contemporary spin. Mixed with sharp, modern dialogue, the narrative exploits the historic present tense to give an essentially hardcore historical novel some extra literary pizzazz.
It also meets the demand for a cracking good read – the carefully-crafted entrapment of Boleyn and the alleged plotters is superbly told. Superior to Wolf Hall, its predecessor, Bring Up the Bodies will stimulate a feel-good factor throughout the nation's book groups.

Whether it will be read as anything more than a fascinating curiosity in years to come is another matter. Posterity is generally rather unkind towards crowd-pleasing prizewinners. And this is a prizewinner with knobs on.