Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Summer holiday picnic at the beach.
From left: June & Wilson Gordon, Pamela Gordon, Janet Frame.
Photograph by Ian Gordon. 
Wishing all the readers of this blog a Happy New Year 2015.
PS: This photo very likely dates to early 1964, not long after Janet Frame returned from her years of living in Europe. She was 39 years old at the time. Coincidentally Frame's autobiographical trilogy AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (written in the early 1980s) ceases at the exact time captured in the image - shortly after she returned to New Zealand and was staying with her sister's family in Northcote. But Frame went on to live for another action-filled 40 years!

The 'mother' of New Zealand fiction?

In the Memorial Room was reviewed insightfully for the blog NZ LIT 101: Reviews of New Zealand Books:

"The book is funny, not in a snorting laughter way, but it is a satire with an edge of irony.  If Katherine Mansfield, which of course the Menton Fellowship in Frame’s book refers to, is the Grandmother of New Zealand fiction, Janet is potentially the mother.  Perhaps releasing the book after her death means that Frame can poke fun at the way writers are remembered, how they are memorialised, and how as readers and literary groupies we try and house writers in our collective imaginations."

The reviewer notes that Harry "feels like the memorial room is a grave that keeps Hurndell’s death alive rather than her work."

Nicely said!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A death in the family

Janet Frame's beloved nephew Ian Gordon died suddenly in August this year at the age of 64. Ian was the "nephew sleeping in a basement room" of her famous poem 'Rain on the Roof' (see poster below), written when Ian was a teenager and Janet Frame was staying in a caravan in the back yard of the Gordon family home in Northcote.

Ian was a veteran Radio New Zealand engineer and technical producer of radio drama, having started working for the state broadcaster 47 years ago. More recently Ian had become an occasional comedic actor, featuring in short films and TV productions. He is dearly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

 Tribute to Ian Gordon in Phantom Billstickers Café Reader #4
In his memory Radio New Zealand has instituted the Ian Gordon Memorial Award for excellence in Technology. The first award was presented recently in Wellington by Ian's brother Dr Neil Gordon (with Ian's daughter Aimee Tolhopf present from Auckland by video link). The winners were Shannon McKenna and Matt Thomson.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Janet Frame poems in Italian

The 31st October 2014 issue of the Italian online journal ATELIER features three poems by Janet Frame.

'The Happy Prince', 'The Icicles' and 'A Journey' - all from The Goose Bath (2006) appear in the original English and in Italian translation.

The poems were translated into Italian by Eleonora Bello and Francesca Benocci.


Spanish translator wins prize for volume of NZ stories


 A volume of 20 New Zealand short stories translated into Spanish by Paloma Fresno Calleja, published by the University of Zaragoza Press (Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza 2014) has won a prize for its translator. For more, read co-editor Janet Wilson's blog post here.

The selection of 20 short stories includes Janet Frame's story 'The Lagoon'.

"not just a brilliant novel" (Angela Meyer in THE AUSTRALIAN)

"In the Memorial Room is not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors, New Zealander Janet Frame, who died in 2004."

Angela Meyer, 'Writer's Cell Block', a review of In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, The Australian 4 May 2013

Australian author, critic and book blogger Angela Meyer (of Literary Minded fame) really gets Janet Frame. It's a delight to reread her insights about Memorial - I blogged this review at the time, but have just come across it again while looking for something else, and had to marvel yet again at how perceptive it is.

"It is mentioned in the preface that Frame did not want to offend anyone involved with the Mansfield Fellowship, or in Menton, but it's also probable that she enjoyed the idea of a posthumous conversation with the reader, about language, expression, "truth" and endings: retirement, personal or professional obliteration, and (always there behind it all) death. And here, too, lies Frame's sharp, knowing wit, her attention to the absurd, and also - as some may think of it - her darkness."

A Mijo Tree for Christmas

The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame
Illustrated by Deidre Copeland
Published by Penguin New Zealand (2014)
Reprinted 2015
Hardback 101 pages
Available: Australia/New Zealand

This unique little treasure of a book was published for the first time just over a year ago - it sold out almost immediately and wasn't reprinted until this year - so there are probably some left if anyone missed out on the Christmas rush last year.

There is a new review of The Mijo Tree in the latest Landfall magazine. It's a print edition so the contents are not online, so I'll pick out an observation or two made by the reviewer James Norcliffe.

Landfall 228 (Spring 2014)
University of Otago Press

The review is entitled 'Strange and Powerful Music' which could refer to a lot of Janet Frame's writings, especially when she resorts to her fable style as here.

Norcliffe notes that the book has been "beautifully packaged" and thinks that the 'retro' design with its monochrome illustrated frame and the occasional full-page illustrations are "somewhat reminiscent of Arthur Rackham" and that these "complement the bleak message".
The Mijo Tree is indeed a dark story, and Frame had learnt by the time she wrote this piece that the squeamish gate keepers of her acquaintance at that time would likely be repelled by it. So she preserved it for posterity - she knew posterity to be strangely enthusiastic for long lost manuscripts - and here we are, lucky posterity, able to read it at last. There are two surviving copies, both lodged at the Hocken Library in Dunedin - one amongst her own literary papers and one donated by her friend John Money, to whom Janet posted a copy of the manuscript in 1957.
Norcliffe kindly refers to my " very useful afterword on the origin and subsequent history of the manuscript", and he goes on to give a thorough and appreciative reading of the fable as "more Aeschylus than Aesop" with no "happy-ever-afters or comforting bromides here, nor finger-wagging moralising."
The review concludes with the observation that while biographical speculation "adds a frisson to the reading, The Mijo Tree exists quite independently of this as a dark, bleak little tale and a most worthwhile addition to the Janet Frame canon."
Here is a link to an earlier blog post with reviews, news features, a radio interview and the launch speech by Vanda Symon: The Mijo Tree takes root


'Dear Charles, Dear Janet' at the DWRF (on youtube)

Here is a video recording of a public reading from Dear Charles, Dear Janet that was performed to a full house earlier this year at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival.

Readers were (from left):
Pamela Gordon (literary executor for Janet Frame)
Alan Roddick (literary executor for Charles Brasch)
Georgina O'Reilly (English Lit student, University of Otago)
David Eggleton (current editor of Landfall)

Dear Charles Dear Janet consists of a series of excerpts from the correspondence and other writings of Janet Frame and Charles Brasch - shaped into a conversation between the two - that also serves as an enlightening portrait of both writers. It was selected and edited by Frame trustees Pamela Gordon and Denis Harold in 2009 with the intention of drawing out the development of the long relationship between Frame & Brasch that began with her tentative approach to him as august editor of the literary magazine Landfall and ended with the tender mutual affection and respect of their last letters. The conversation is fascinating, at times very moving and at times humorous.

Dear Charles, Dear  Janet was first performed as Can You Hear Me, Whangaparaoa? at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in 2009 to a large and appreciative audience. The text was enlarged and subsequently published in a hand-printed fine edition by Holloway Press at Auckland University.

The Dunedin readings were slightly abridged to fit a shorter timeslot (from 60 to 45 minutes).

 “This was such a clever idea - a programme of readings from unpublished correspondence between two towering NZ literary figures, Janet Frame and Charles Brasch… Well done whomever it was that came up with this idea.” (Graham Beattie)

 “This was a fabulous glimpse into the lives of Janet Frame and Charles Brasch, and certainly highlighted the mischievous sense of humour of Janet! I felt I came away with a real taste of the characters of these remarkable individuals.” (Vanda Symon) 

“It was an original and moving tribute, attended by a big crowd. Brasch’s and Frame’s voices came strongly down the years; some things have changed, some are the same. Brasch writing to Frame that “bulldozers on Waiheke sounds like sacrilege” is all too familiar, but Frame’s description of Brasch as having “discipline instead of marrow in his bones” could not be applied to too many people now.”  (Christchurch City Libraries Blog)

 Graphic: Otago Daily Times

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A post from Andorra

When your friends and family travel these days it's usually not a 'postcard' they send to let you know the latest place they have been and what they have seen - it's a 'post' on Facebook. My brother Neil Gordon travelled to Spain recently and posted some marvellous pictures from an excursion he made to Andorra along with a fascinating report of his day, which he has kindly agreed to share with the readers of this blog:

 8 December 2014

I went on something of a pilgrimage to Andorra today. My aunt Janet Frame lived there for about six weeks in March/April 1957. I wanted to see the area where she lived, referred to as Les Escaldes in the chapter “Andorra” of her autobiography, from which I will use short quotes.

Looking down towards the main part of Andorra La Vella from the Escaldes-Engordany area. The other photos are from immediately below on the right hand side amongst those buildings.


I think I found the “ .. roaring mountain torrent that washed at the basement walls of the tenement buildings lining its banks.” The exact tenement building wasn’t locatable - I suspect it has long since been torn down and replaced by a swanky apartment building.

 Janet refers to her lodgings only having running cold water, as “ .. the town’s hot water, drawn from hot springs in the mountains, could be freely used at the basins and taps in the square”. I found one such public hot water source - the Font del Roc Del Metge which provides water which is 70C at source.

She also refers to her routine of “ .. each morning taking the tin bucket along the street, over the ancient stone bridge to the dairy for the day’s milk ..”. I think that particular bridge is the Pont d'Engordany, built in 1785. Incidentally, it seems that what used to be the separate village of Les Escaldes has been absorbed into Andorra La Vella and is referred to as Escaldes-Engordany.

Pont d'Engordany

It's been a long but very satisfying day. I left my Barcelona hotel at 7 am and got back at 11 pm. These were a few photos - I have many more to show family back in NZ.

Photographs (c) Neil Gordon, LPSNZ

Elizabeth Smither takes Janet Frame Award


Congratulations to author Elizabeth Smither, who has received the 2014 NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature.

Judges said Smither was an illustrious poet whose work "continues to go from strength to strength".
Elizabeth Smither is a poet, novelist and short story writer who has recently retired from her librarian role at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth. She said she was delighted with the win. Smither, who knew Janet Frame, having met up with her at the time when Frame lived in nearby Stratford, Taranaki, said "It's just lovely to have an award named after her." (Taranaki Daily News)

Smither intends to use the award, worth $3,000, to help her find the concentrated time needed to work on a new collection of poems.

The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) judging panel said they were impressed by the calibre of the applicants for the award, with "many of New Zealand's more distinguished writers vying for this accolade".

Highly Commended were:

Laurence Fearnley
Siobhan Harvey
Cilla McQueen
Vivienne Plumb
Tina Shaw

The NZSA Janet Frame Award is given every two years and is funded by a gift of $15,000 given to NZSA/PEN by the Janet Frame Literary Trust in 2007.

Coincidentally as I write this (10 December 2014), today is the anniversary of the award of a literary prize to Janet Frame herself, for her first book, by PEN NZ - which was the precursor to the current New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc).

 Janet Frame's P.E.N. Hubert Church Award was signed on the 10th of December 1952
For further information on that 'lifesaving literary prize' please see my blog post written on the 60th anniversary.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Arche Literatur Kalender 2015

For 2015 Janet Frame will again feature on the Arche Literary Cooking Calendar.
It's a winning idea: recipes, or at least descriptions of meals, are drawn from the author's writing and these are supplemented by a recipe and illustrations of the ingredients. Beautifully done.
(It's in German of course!)
Here was Janet Frame's page for the 2014 calendar:
She was joined by Philip Roth among many others.
Janet Frame's recipe for 2015 is Fisch unter der Haube, inspired by a passage from Living in the Maniototo (Auf dem Maniototo).
Some of the many other great authors included in the 2015 calendar include Thomas Mann and Alice Munro.

You can peruse a range of fascinating calendars (and order, if you wish) at this link: ARCHE

Some previews of the 2015 Arche Küchen Kalender 2015 can be found here.

Writing Short Stories: A Bloomsbury Companion

by Courttia Newland & Tania Hershman
Bloomsbury Academic (December 2014)
Hot off the press, a guide to writing short stories. Among the many approaches, Tania Hershman in one chapter makes a close reading of Janet Frame's exquisite story 'Between My Father and the King'.

Poems from around the world

Another English. Another anthology!
Poetry Foundation
Harriet Monroe Institute
Poets in the World Series
edited by Catherine Barnett & Tiphanie Yanique
Tupelo Press 2014

Acclaimed poets from around the world select poems from their country of origin.

"Using an artist’s rather than a scholar’s approach, these poems — chosen out of love and admiration by practicing poets — show the vitality of English deployed by revered and emerging poets."
Hinemoana Baker from Aotearoa/New Zealand joins her selections with those of fellow poets Les Murray from Australia, Todd Swift from Canada, Rustum Kozain from South Africa, Ishion Hutchinson from the Caribbean, Kwame Dawes from Ghana, Sudeep Sen from India.
The Aotearoa/NZ selection includes Tusiata Avia, Meg Campbell, David Eggleton, Bernadette Hall, Anne Kennedy, Robert Sullivan and Hone Tuwhare, among other well-known names. Janet Frame's poem is the powerful 'Yet Another Poem About a Dying Child' with these unforgettable lines in the last stanza:
He must sleep, rocking the web of pain
till the kind furred spider will come
with the night-lamp eyes and soft tread
to wrap him warm and carry him home
to a dark place, and eat him. 

Dealing with Rejection

"If you have received a rejection letter, it means you have something in common with many great writers like Janet Frame."

One book blogger responded to her reading of Janet Frame's posthumously published collection of stories by incorporating a review of the book with some hints for writers about how to deal with rejection. It's worth a read! (She doesn't include Janet Frame's strategy - write about the rejection in your autobiography and leave the rejected manuscripts for your literary estate to publish in the New Yorker! That'll show them!)


'Between My Father and the King' trailer (Australian edition)

The book trailer for the Australian version of Between My Father & the King, published by Wilkins Farago. Enjoy.


"Vibrant, insightful" - Australian Book Review

Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories
Wilkins Farago, Australia (paperback Dec 2013)
"There is more than enough here to demonstrate what made Frame such a vibrant, insightful, insistent, and distinctive writer."

I'm just catching up with this marvellous review of Between My Father & the King by Sophia Barnes in the Australian Book Review (June/July 2014 no. 362):

" Frame always dealt deftly with the darkest parts of human nature, in a way that is utterly unsensational and matter-of-fact – all the much more effective for that. The posthumously published ‘Dot’,  like the hitherto unpublished ‘Big Money’, is marked by a dénouement whose stomach-clenching shock derives as much from the subtlety with which it is handled as from its content. "

" ‘An Electric Blanket’, apparently disliked by Frame’s close friend and mentor Frank Sargeson and not published until now, is beautiful, strange, and moving – a telling slice of married life, unmarred by sentimentality. "

 " Gorse Is Not People’, famously denied publication on the basis of its bleak conclusion, is indeed heartbreaking – short, simple, and devastating. Its final publication in The New Yorker and now in this collection can only be celebrated. "

Janet Frame's posthumous collection of stories, is also available in American and New Zealand editions:

Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories Penguin New Zealand (jacketed hardback 2012)

Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories Counterpoint Press, USA, (hardback 2012, paperback 2013, ebook 2013)


An essential New Zealand poetry anthology

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page selected by Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts and James Norcliffe. Random House NZ (2014).

Another great anthology! There are just 150 poems - one each, from 150 NZ poets - carefully chosen by the three editors, who make no empty claim that they are the 'best' poems (because that always starts a fight anyway), just that they are their favourite New Zealand poems (in their own words: "we have chosen poems that reflect our subjective preferences").

In my opinion they've chosen well. They picked the Janet Frame poem that she thought was her 'best': 'The Place'. They have picked many of my own favourites, so reading this book is a reunion in many cases with a familiar old friend. But there are occasional surprises and there are plenty of exciting new poets and poems to add freshness to the palate of someone who has a very large number of the other poetry anthologies produced in New Zealand, on a shelf in the same room.

Initially I was shocked to find that the great Kendrick Smithyman (a personal favourite of mine) was omitted. And then the wonderful Ursula Bethell, and Ron Mason, and others, are not there. But I was mollified somewhat by the explanation that the anthology intended only to cover those poets writing from the 1950s on. This decision has fortuitously made room for many fine new poets who may otherwise have had to wait their turn. But the cutoff point of the 1950s doesn't explain the absence of Smithyman, who was writing well past then, or others such as Wystan Curnow, Leigh Davis, Sam Sampson, Alan Loney, Alan Brunton, to name just a few obvious missing in action (and there is a pattern emerging).

Clearly the choice for this book was to be an overall conservatively accessible one, nothing too much there to scare the horses, as one would expect from a handsome burnished book with a golden ribbon, published by a main stream publisher. And at least the editors have been honest about their rationale, and they have delivered an excellent selection. These books do very well in the local market, and long may they do so. We New Zealanders love our poets and we love our poetry.

This is another volume highly recommended as a literate Christmas gift that ticks all the "buy local, buy a book' boxes, and that is sure to be welcomed warmly into any home.