Wednesday, May 18, 2016

From Janet Frame to the Ockham Book Awards

Congratulations to David Eggleton whose book The Conch Trumpet has won the prestigious 2015/2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Best Book of Poetry, worth $10,000.
David Eggleton was earlier awarded the 2015 Janet Frame Literary Trust Poetry Award (worth $5,000) and the Frame trustees and the members of our advisory panel are all delighted that The Conch Trumpet, a truly outstanding work, is gaining such recognition and reward.
This is not the first time that a New Zealand author has been awarded the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award and has gone on to win the premier New Zealand Book Award: Rhian Gallagher (JFLT Poetry Award 2008) won the NZ Book Award in 2012 for her poetry volume Shift and Alison Wong (JFLT Fiction Award 2009) won the 2010 NZ Book Award for her novel As the Earth Turns Silver.
In 2014 Geoff Cochrane (JFLT Poetry Award 2009) was awarded the lucrative Arts Foundation Laureate Award worth $50,000.
2016 is the first year the New Zealand Book Awards have been sponsored by Ockham. Previous sponsors have been New Zealand Post, Montana Wines, and food processing company Wattie (later Goodman Fielder Wattie).
I think I speak for many of the winners and finalists of the NZ Book Awards when I personally admit that my favourite sponsor was the wine company. Janet Frame's posthumous volume of poetry The Goose Bath won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Best Poetry Book in 2007 and as one of the editors of that volume I had the great honour and pleasure to accept the prize on Janet Frame's behalf. The prize packages in those days included bottles of excellent bubbly! And the celebration dinners were well lubricated!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Peedauntal Question

Yesterday was the last day ever that you could Google the word 'peedauntal' and get NO answer.

Peedauntal is a word that close friends artist Bill Brown and author Janet Frame made up together early in their relationship and that figured very much in their first year or so of correspondence. The first book of Janet Frame's letters to Bill (William Theophilus Brown) will be published in a few hours in the USA, and the mystery of the Peedauntal will be solved by reading that volume.

No spoilers please!

Edited by: Denis Harold
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Counterpoint USA
Release Date: 10 May, 2016
Language: English
List Price: US$28
ISBN-10: 1619027283
ISBN-13: 978-1619027282
Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds

Publisher's website:

Please note: not yet available in New Zealand

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Anna Smaill @ Janet Frame House

Man Booker Prize longlisted novelist Anna Smaill has been invited to Oamaru by the Friends of the Janet Frame House. She will speak at the Oamaru Library at 6pm on Friday 22nd April 2016 and give a writing workshop the following day at the Janet Frame House, 56 Eden Street, Oamaru.

Anna Smaill, as well as being a poet and novelist, also studied Janet Frame in her academic career. She published an essay 'Beyond Analogy: Janet Frame and Existential Thought' in Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009) edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Her Friday night talk is entitled 'Breaking Worlds - Janet Frame and Dystopia'.

Smaill's own celebrated novel The Chimes was dubbed by the Guardian as "an original Dystopian Debut", so the audience at her talk can be guaranteed some fascinating insights into this theme.

Another great literary weekend sponsored by the Friends of the Janet Frame House.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guardian paperback fiction choice: Owls Do Cry

Another accolade for Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry - it was selected by the Guardian as their paperback fiction choice for this month (March 2016):

"Our fiction choice this March is the dazzling and under-appreciated classic Owls Do Cry by New Zealand’s finest author, Janet Frame. Just released in a brand new edition, this was her first full-length work of fiction, originally published in 1957. A hugely innovative work at the time, it is now considered a modernist masterpiece.
 Poetic and experimental, Owls Do Cry recounts the story of a poor and tragedy-bound family, gently exploring mental health, poverty and loneliness. It was one of the first novels to deal with life in a mental institution, drawing similarities to Mrs Dalloway, The Bell Jar and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – the all-time greats alongside which Owls Do Cry earns a worthy place. Informed by the author’s own time in such institutions, it skilfully allows the realistic narration of events to drift into evocative and dreamlike prose.  
A sombre and, in places, heart-breaking story, Owls Do Cry is beautifully written and affecting, and we think will stay with you long after you turn the last pages."


Monday, March 14, 2016

Janet Frame leaves an impression

The Gift

by Cilla McQueen

When I was at school we walked
two by two in a green crocodile,
with numerous legs the colour of
peanut butter, green mossy hats on top
and on each hat a dove.

I rejoiced in a group of trusty friends
who have lasted all my life.
We found boys pretty fascinating.
Wise teachers instilled in us the art
of listening, inside and out.

I struggled with the Pythagoras,
enjoyed the Law of Moments,
glimpsed history's deep currents
beneath the surface of the present,
learned languages, loved poetry.

In the school library, I first
encountered Janet Frame. One day
walking home along Highgate, reading
'The Edge of the Alphabet' (I think)
I collided with a lamp-post.

At the heart of it all is Columba,
a saint's faith shining from an open book,
a beacon. Sacred his gift
to the island-dwellers: a simple church,
the habit of prayer.

Poet Cilla McQueen's tribute to her school days at Columba College in Dunedin has been published to mark the college's centennial celebrations. Cilla kindly sent me a copy of the poem and gave permission for it to be reproduced here. She said:

" Sending you this to show that Janet Frame's work had quite an impact on my literary development!"

I recently posted Elizabeth Smither's report on her NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award. Cilla McQueen is another of the former New Zealand Poet Laureates who is happy to acknowledge her debt to Janet Frame's influence and example.

Janet Frame's contribution to an aspiring poet's career did not always deliver such a physical impact!

 Cilla McQueen's memoir In a Slant Light is to be published this month by Otago University Press.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Elizabeth Smither's Report on her Janet Frame Award

Report on New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature 2014: Elizabeth Smither

When I received news from Claire Hill that I had been awarded the Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature for 2014 I not only felt exceptionally honoured – there is no other name that could adorn an award and give me more pleasure – but I also found myself treasuring personal memories of Janet, some notes I had received from her on green paper, a meeting at her home in Stratford (and the easy and rapid way we conversed). Since that time I also had the pleasure of launching her correspondence with Charles Brasch in Dear Charles Dear Janet at the Gus Fisher Gallery. Most of all though the award and what it signified brought me closer, not just to a greatly admired writer, but to one who understood fully how precarious a writer’s life can be. The generosity of the grant of $3,000 and the open-ended way in which the writer could decide to use it (on buying a computer or buying time or travelling) was the best kind of support a writer can receive.

I decided to do what I imagined Janet would do in a similar circumstance: simply keep going at the work in hand. In my case this included a new collection of poems: Night Horse which I am hoping to submit for Auckland University Press for 2017; writing some new stories; and working on a further draft of a novel which I had started in 2013, abandoned, and then decided to re-write. I worked on these three projects simultaneously, sometimes concentrating on stories, never letting the poetry writing lapse, and, once I was working on the novel producing a quota of words each week. Janet gave me the impression of working on different characters in different rooms in her house – I think she said as much when she was showing me around.

The other benefit of such a grant is an increase in confidence: I certainly felt this. Though I worked across several genres and wrote reviews and reports and went on mentoring students I did all these things with increased pleasure and application simply because I was the recipient of this award. It is an award that brings a welcome gravitas.

Now that the writing year is nearly ended I realise I am working in the same pattern as I was when I received news of the Janet Frame Memorial Award last October. The award has been both a recognition and a consolidation; I think it echoes the way I imagine Janet herself worked: writing as a task and a vocation, a steady application, concentration and attention to detail and accuracy.

It has been a great personal pleasure to have held this award. I don’t think of it as being finite, or confined to merely one year: I am sure the benefit will last through my whole career as a writer.

Elizabeth Smither
30 October 2015

Many thanks to Jackie Dennis, CEO of the NZ Society of Authors, and to Elizabeth Smither for permission to reproduce this report here.
The NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature will be offered again in 2016. (See the link for more details.)
ELIZABETH SMITHER is a former New Zealand Poet Laureate and will take part this week in the event A Circle of Laureates at Wellington’s New Zealand Festival Writers Week: Friday 11 March, 7pm, National Library of New Zealand.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A double lightning strike

Isabel Frame, Oamaru Gardens

Janet Frame’s younger sister Isabel died on this day in 1947. Isabel drowned in Picton Harbour while on holiday with her mother, almost exactly ten years after her sister Myrtle had drowned in the Oamaru public baths. As Janet Frame says in her autobiography An Angel at My Table:

“On the second afternoon of the Picton holiday, the phone rang, and June answered it, and heard through the static and crackle, that it was ‘Picton calling’. Dad was at work, and Bruddie [Geordie] was out. Aunty Grace was calling from Picton. Then there was an invisible commotion in the kitchen, like static leaked from the telephone: Isabel, swimming in Picton Harbour, had collapsed and was drowned. There was to be an inquest, after which Mother would bring Isabel home by train.
There was no use even supposing that there had been a mistake: Isabel drowned. It was almost ten years since Myrtle’s death, and this new blow, like a double lightning strike, burned away our thinking and feeling – what was there to think about, to feel?

The phone rang again. It was Dad: he’d heard the news and was coming home. Bruddie was coming home too. The news was everywhere: Family tragedy of ten years ago repeated. Oamaru girl drowned.

Some called her ‘girl’, some called her ‘woman’. Isabel May Frame in her twenty-first year."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Frame Expo

Every year I am amused to receive an invitation to an Art and Frame Expo in China. It has crossed my mind that if I were to submit an application to Creative New Zealand for a travel grant to attend this expo, I might have more luck than when the Janet Frame estate applied to Creative New Zealand as well as another NZ literary funding entity, 'CLL' (Copyright Licensing), for help with funding the preparation of Janet Frame's letters for publication. We were turned down by both funding bodies. I am sure that in contrast to that rejection of the opportunity to support the publishing of Frame's historic correspondence, the arts bureaucrats would likely be swayed by the glamour of this exciting opportunity to represent New Zealand frames in Shanghai.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

For Sheila's a jolly good fellow

 Warm congratulations and Happy Birthday to Janet Frame's old friend 
Sheila Natusch, 90 years old today.

A recent feature on Sheila Natusch appeared in the University of Otago's Alumni Magazine.

A movie about Sheila's life is currently in  production: No Ordinary Sheila.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Owls Do Cry remains innovative and relevant"

The Guardian

"The modernist masterpiece about siblings struggling with money, health and grief still has the power to unnerve and astonish nearly 60 years after it was first published"

~ The Guardian reviews Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry, February 2016.

"While a strong reflection of the time at which it was written, Owls Do Cry remains innovative and relevant. Frame’s idiosyncratic and startlingly visual style means that the book’s immense power to unnerve, astonish and impress endures."

~ Claire Hazelton


"the everyday and the magical"


Actor Kerry Fox as Janet Frame, reading at the door of the garden hut* where Frame wrote her first novel OWLS DO CRY. Scene from Jane Campion's film adaptation of Janet Frame's autobiography, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE.
"Frame’s experimental debut novel is part of a piece with some extraordinary work by women writers in the 1950s. This is the era that saw the emergence of novelists including Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark, and Iris Murdoch, and Frame’s place alongside them would be assured if she never published anything but this one novel.

It’s a mixture of the bleak and the humorous, the everyday and the magical, as she tells the story of the Withers family. Frame’s unique voice, fragmented in places, superbly cohesive in others, drives the individual members on to their particular fates.

The sense of inescapable doom is surprisingly not as claustrophobic as one might aspect, though, thanks to the dancing of the words, their light and life."

Lesley McDowell
The Independent
 18 January 2016

* The real hut was smaller!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Owls Do Cry on a roll

Wenn Eulen Schrein
Janet Frame
A new German edition of Janet Frame's first novel Owls Do Cry is published this month.
(sublicensed paperback edition)
Owls Do Cry was first published in German translation in 1961 and has been reissued several times since then. (This is at least the 8th German edition, to my knowledge - not counting reprints.)
This new German edition comes hot on the heels of the new UK edition published by Virago Modern Classics, which is receiving some marvellous notices, including positive reviews in the Irish Times, the Independent, the GuardianBBC Radio 4 and Radio Scotland.

Owls Do Cry, Virago Modern Classic January 2016
Here are some other current and recent international editions of Owls Do Cry.
A new American edition is forthcoming in 2017, 60 years after first publication.

Here is a link to the Janet Frame Facebook page album of some Owls Do Cry Covers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2016 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture

The timetables are out for the Writers Week at the New Zealand Festival (i.e. the Wellington Festival) always an exciting time for booklovers.

The 2016 Festival will again be hosting the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture to be given this year by author Philip Temple. His theme will be:

"How much has changed for New Zealand writers in the last 50 years, and what has remained constant? For the ninth New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, which coincides with the 50th anniversary edition of his book The Sea and the Snow, NZSA President of Honour Philip Temple shares both his own experience and his work on a biography of Maurice Shadbolt to illuminate the subject."
Saturday 12 March 2016
City Gallery, Wellington
Free Admission


Friday, January 29, 2016

"Remember me"

Janet Frame died 12 years ago today
on the 29th January 2004
at Dunedin Hospital, from leukaemia.
She died, alert and conscious, comforted in the arms of loved ones.
 This beautiful tribute to Janet Frame was first published on the 30th January 2004 in the Dominion Post and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the artist Tom Scott.
'Small Farewell' by Janet Frame 

Writing letters of goodbye
we are inclined to say
because we have read
or heard it said
or knew someone who likewise went away
that small details pester the memory.

In the corner closet of your eye
in the back room of seeing
that looks out on the backyard of yesterday
who can pretend to say
what you will muffle in moth balls
or soak with insect spray 

to stop the spread of memory’s decay?

I think all I can say
from hearing a ghost speak in a Shakespeare play
is, if you were Hamlet, and I your father’s ghost,
–Remember me. 

['Small Farewell' was first published posthumously in The Goose Bath, Random House NZ, 2006. Janet Frame's Selected Poems are available in the collection Storms Will Tell, Bloodaxe, 2008.]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

BBC Culture: What makes Owls Do Cry a literary classic?

There was another discussion of Janet Frame and her first novel Owls Do Cry last week on BBC Radio. Donna Coonan of Virago Modern Classics and writer and critic Stuart Kelly talked to Janice Forsyth of BBC Radio Scotland about what constitutes a literary classic.

Listen or download here: Revisiting Literary Classics (Janice Forsyth Show)


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

BBC podcast: Margaret Drabble on Janet Frame

There was a most interesting discussion about Janet Frame last week on BBC Radio 4  between Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey and author Margaret Drabble.

This conversation (timed at 18.35 on the podcast) marked the reissue of Janet Frame's first novel Owls Do Cry as a Virago Modern Classic. This edition includes an Introduction written by Margaret Drabble for Owls Do Cry, a book she describes as 'riveting'.

Download or listen here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Neil Hegarty On Janet Frame

'A song of survival: Neil Hegarty on Janet Frame and Owls Do Cry'

Such a thoughtful, fascinating and well-researched review of Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry in The Irish Times today! The new Virago Modern Classics edition is attracting some excellent commentary, and the time is certainly long overdue for a fresh perspective to be brought upon this classic novel and on Janet Frame's oeuvre in general:
"Owls Do Cry is a devastating reflection on the character of conventional society and the dangers that await those who reject its narrowness – and as such, is profoundly chilling. It is also a vivid social document, capturing the language and texture of the postwar period. It is a heartbreaking evocation of childhood and a child’s vision of the world; and not least, it is a work of considerable lyrical beauty."
 Hegarty gives some of the history of reception of Frame's debut novel and indeed the "prurient" and "unmistakably gendered" attention to analysing her private life "for evidence of madness or eccentricity".

But, he says, Frame survived, and the work she produced is her vindication:
"she emerged victorious – and the evidence of this victory lies not in parsing excessively the stuff of her life, but in reading what she created in the course of it."