Sunday, February 11, 2018

Friends of Janet Frame House plan literary weekend

Our colleagues at the charitable trust that cares for the Janet Frame House in Oamaru have sent us this poster for their upcoming literary weekend taking place from Friday February 16th - Sunday February 18th. The weekend is a very worthwhile annual event organised by  the Friends of the Janet Frame House and they have hosted a parade of excellent Kiwi literary talents over the years including: Fiona Kidman, Greg McGee, Anna Smaill, Philip Temple, Diane Brown, Owen Marshall.

For 2018 the stars are two prizewinning authors: novelist Catherine Chidgey and poet Kate Camp

As an aside, I'll mention that Catherine Chidgey is the most recent recipient of our own Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. As a novelist she is at the height of her powers.

The pair are not to be missed if you are in Oamaru next week, booking information for their discussion "That Inviolate Place" at the Oamaru Opera House on Friday night is available at:

Janet Frame wrote, “…there must be an inviolate place where the choices and decisions, however imperfect, are the writer’s own, where the decision must be as individual and solitary as birth or death.”
We get an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes with two of New Zealand’s leading writers; Catherine Chidgey and Kate Camp – award-winning writers at the top of their game.
With each highly acclaimed writer interviewing the other, expect an intimate evening of shared good humour, spontaneity and revelation.
Writers and readers alike will delight in this exclusive insight into the makings of world class literature.

Unfortunately I'm told the Saturday writing class is sold out, but the free picnic on Sunday at the house sounds like fun. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Janet Frame: still a source of inspiration

Greetings for the new year - all good wishes for 2018 to Janet Frame's fans who read this blog.

It is 14 years today since Janet died, on the 29th of January 2004, but there is still plenty to talk about (when I find the time). There are some exciting new editions of her work coming out in March and in May; there are some theatrical productions in preparation; more translations happening; there is a fresh new publication of Frame's poetry in a French language journal; she features in several new anthologies and a couple of kids' books; and more... and I'll be writing about those in due course.

For today I can't think of a better way to mark this anniversary of Janet's death than by sharing some work that has been inspired by her writings. Her work lives on and continues to inspire and enlighten and console and challenge. With kind permission, I reproduce here these images of a couple of paintings by Theodor Harmsen, who is a Dutch academic, a fan of Janet Frame's work. The two paintings are part of a series (inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest) that is currently appearing in an exhibition in the Utrecht City Library in the Netherlands.

Theodor Harmsen says: "I am a teacher of English language and literature at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I am an avid reader of Janet Frame’s work and have much enjoyed the posthumous publications that have come out in recent years. I am also a painter and have been working on a project inspired by The Tempest, that multifaceted Romance by William Shakespeare and an important inspiration, as you know, in Janet Frame’s early stories and novels."

Among other works of Janet Frame's, Mr Harmsen was inspired by this quote from Janet Frame's autobiography An Angel at My Table:
What could I do if I couldn’t write? Writing was to be my rescue. I felt as if my hands had been uncurled from their clinging-place on the rim of the lifeboat … I comforted myself by remembering that in my years in hospital, when I clung to my copy of Shakespeare, hiding it under my straw mattresses, having it seized and scheming for its return, not often reading it but turning the tissue-paper-thin pages which somehow conveyed the words to me, I had absorbed the spirit of The Tempest. Even Prospero in his book-lined cell had suffered shipwreck and selfwreck; his island was unreachable except through storm.
Here are the two works in which Theodor Harmsen pays homage to Janet Frame (oil on canvas, 120 cm x 200 cm):

Janet and the Owls
by Theodor Harmsen

How Many Goodly Creatures
by Theodor Harmsen
"The works try to approach the inner Tempest world, both Shakespeare’s and Janet Frame’s. I imagine, or dream, that Janet and the figures appear on Prospero’s island." - TH 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Janet Frame's Bohemian Ibiza


Janet Frame's time on Ibiza was painstakingly well documented by her (in the third volume of her autobiography) and by her biographer Michael King. Janet Frame was drawn to Ibiza as were so many other writers and artists, by the cheap lifestyle and the easy living and the freedom.

Ibiza Bohemia (Assouline 2017) is a stylish and colourful new book on Ibiza as bohemian destination that features Janet Frame among the famous creative people who have sojourned there. I was pleased to collaborate with the authors who sought to quote from Janet Frame's writings about her time there.

"Ibiza Bohemia captures the spirit of the Mediterranean island that's served as an escape for artists, creatives and musicians since the '30s. Flicking through this hardcover book will reveal 300 pages of vibrant photos, quotes and anecdotes curated through the perspective of fashion stylist and editor Renu Kashyap and travel writer Maya Boyd. Explore the island's scenic cliffs, bohemian interiors and legendary cast of free-spirited characters."

- 300-page hardcover book
- Published: 2017
- Publisher: Assouline
- ISBN: 9781614285915

"From roaring nightlife to peaceful yoga retreats, Ibiza’s hippie-chic atmosphere is its hallmark. This quintessential Mediterranean hot spot has served as an escape for artists, creatives, and musicians alike for decades. It is a place to reinvent oneself, to walk the fine line between civilization and wilderness, and to discover bliss. Ibiza Bohemia explores the island’s scenic Balearic cliffs, its legendary cast of characters, and the archetypal interiors that define its signature style."

Ibiza Bohemia


Get Ready for Go Girl

by Barbara Else

A stunning illustrated storybook for the girls of New Zealand with a powerful can-do message.

Go Girl is a collection of true stories about New Zealand women who have done extraordinary things.
They strove for their goals.
They weren’t afraid to step up or speak out.
They blazed a trail for others to follow.
This book was written to show that YOU can join them!

Just some of the amazing women whose stories you will find in this book are:

Janet Frame, Dame Whina Cooper,  Lucy Lawless, Kate Sheppard,  Margaret Mahy, Lydia Ko, Merata Mita, Lorde, Rita Angus, Te Puea Herangi
— and many more.

This is a book that should be on the beside table of every Kiwi girl, from age seven to one hundred and seven.

April 2, 2018

RIP Sheila Natusch nee Traill

"One out of the box."

Farewell Sheila. She was a good friend of Janet's and after Janet's death she became a friend of mine too.  I  looked forward to visiting her at her marvellous little cottage up a steep hill at Owhiro Bay, Wellington, that one reached by ascending in a private cable car. More recently, we caught up by phone and mail. Her letters were almost as exciting as Janet's own letters, full of enclosures and drawings and collages and small surprises.

 As Janet had also done, Sheila seemed to have escaped feeling any obligation whatsoever to the ridiculous conventions that keep nice middleclass people in line. A true individual. My condolences to her friends and family.

The film  of her life that premiered this year is very good - it is illuminating, entertaining and inspiring:

No Ordinary Sheila

Janet Frame's Letters to Bill Brown: LANDFALL review

If you haven't already seen it, check out David Herkt's excellent review of Jay to Bee for Landfall Online. David Herkt is one of New Zealand's best contemporary reviewers and 'Private Admissions Between Friends' is a thoughtful and important review that will stand on the record awaiting a conversation that just is not happening yet. One day 'NZ Lit' will stir itself from its love affair with the mythical/romantic 'Janet', in their eyes an eternal hospital patient, and come around to acknowledging the humanity and complexity - and power - of the real author Frame, acerbic wit and holder of two doctorates.
Herkt rightly notes that JAY TO BEE "is a correspondence which provides an intimate, extended perspective on Frame that exists nowhere else."
"Frame’s observing eye is sharp, sometimes hard, but never less than illuminating. She has wide sympathies but she is no push-over. Her sense of amusement is frequently palpable. Her reflections upon herself are knowing, sometimes engagingly exasperated, but sure. Jay to Bee brings the reader closer to her than ever before. There is no attendant biographer or any sense of performing for a wide public. These letters are private admissions between friends, upon which it is a privilege to intrude.

In these letters to Brown, Frame’s opinions of New Zealand culture, both general and literary, delineate an era. She might refer to New Zealand as ‘a barren country for souls’, but her letters from a nation and a life where, she repeatedly insists, nothing seems to happen, demonstrate the breadth of her perceptions, the fertility of her own personality, her human engagement as a writer and her skill of communication. To read them is to be seduced, beguiled, delighted, informed and impressed."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Una gemma" (a gem): Janet Frame's poems in Italian

2017 marks 50 years since the release of the only book of poems that Janet Frame published in her lifetime: The Pocket Mirror (New York, 1967). Perhaps the publication of a book of her poems in Italian translation has been the most appropriate way to celebrate that golden anniversary.

Parleranno le tempeste (Storms will tell) is a beautifully designed and presented volume of selected poems by Janet Frame, translated into Italian by Francesca Benocci and Eleonora Bello, and published by Gabriele Capelli Editore (2017).

If you can understand Italian, read on! Here are four of the poems:

There has been a warm reception in the Italian-speaking world for Parleranno le tempeste, with plenty of reviews and notices. Here is a selection (see the publisher's web page for more links):

Remarkably readable, one, ten, a hundred times: it will always be read anew, fresh, like her “icicles”.

A gem. (Luisa Debenedetti)
Sorprendentemente leggibile, una, dieci, cento volte: sarà sempre una lettura fresca, come i suoi "ghiaccioli".
Una gemma. (Luisa Debenedetti)

 But one could say much more, because Parleranno le tempeste surely is a precious gem in the overcrowded landscape of italophone publishing. (Daniele Bernardi)

 Ma si potrebbe dire altro, perché Parleranno le tempeste è certo una gemma preziosa nel sovraffollato panorama dell’editoria italofona. (Daniele Bernardi)

Anna Toscano reads 'The Icicles' for La Rivista Intelligente (I loved hearing her recite it, even though I can't speak the language, I recognize the poem that I know so well.)

La libraia virtuale "This small, precious volume..."

Giornale del Popolo, 02.12.2017
La scoperta di Janet Frame
di Gilberto Isella

© Leggere tutti, n. 117, dicembre 2017
Janet Frame, poetessa delle contraddizioni umane
Recensione di Niccolò Lucarelli

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Opera based on Janet Frame's THE RAINBIRDS


Excerpts from an opera based on Janet Frame's novel The Rainbirds (also known as Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room), were previewed last month in New York at the Roulette theatre in Brooklyn.

Experiments in Opera presented selections from Rainbird, a work-in-development between EiO co-founder Aaron Siegel and director, Mallory Catlett, based on the work of author Janet Frame.

The songs from Rainbird set the scene for another work called The Nubian Word for Flowers.

New York Times reviewer Zachary Woolf wrote in response:

“Everyone will now be too far away,” a character quietly sings in Aaron Siegel’s new “Rainbird.” It’s a softly shattering summary of what death does.

That line stuck in my mind during the work that followed excerpts from “Rainbird” on the program Thursday evening at Roulette in Brooklyn: “The Nubian Word for Flowers,” a new opera by Pauline Oliveros left unfinished when she died, just over a year ago. ....

Mr. Siegel’s “Rainbird” is an artful, short chamber-opera rumination inspired by the author Janet Frame. The vocal lines unite pop simplicity, medieval-style incantation and a singsong spoken style borrowed from Robert Ashley. With its central figure a man who finds himself stranded between life and death, it set the mood for the warmly felt haunting that was “The Nubian Word for Flowers.”

~ New York Times, December 2, 2017, Page C5

You can read a fascinating conversation between the composer and director of Rainbird at the Experiments in Opera website. Here is an excerpt:

Collaborators Aaron Siegel (composer) and Mallory Catlett (director) have been exploring the work of Janet Frame, and particularly the novel ‘Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room’ as they make a new opera together. They have worked together and with performers to shape Frame’s writing into performance and have encountered a range of questions and opportunities along the way. They sat down in advance of a workshop performance of scenes from the opera on November 30th at Roulette to discuss aspects of their working process and some of the ideas that are embedded in the source materials for their new opera ‘Rainbird.’

CATLETT: When I was working in graduate school, I was also studying with a literary professor there who happened to teach Frame. He was a post-colonial scholar. I was working with this French philosopher named Hélène Cixous, and we were doing this reading of her philosophy of Frame’s work, which he had never done. So it was pretty extensive.

And I think it had a lot to do with what I was really drawn to. And so applying that sort of philosophic framework on the writing was the way in which I understood why the writing was important, and what I was going to do.

I was listening to the radio one day, and it was some piece of music that was telling the Orpheus and Eurydice story. I think it was the Monteverdi, but I don’t know. I just had this image, and knew I was going to do a piece about Orpheus and Eurydice. And then the more I learned about Orpheus, I wondered I how could wade into that story without reproducing those gendered dynamics of the myth.

And at the same time, I was just reading Frame, and her work is extremely Eurydic and Orphic. It has lush poetry that takes you over. But it also has this kind of cyclical death pattern that’s constantly running through it. And it’s all over the novel.

SIEGEL: How do you see the Orpheus myth of playing out in ‘Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room?” Because Godfrey is sort of an Orphic character, and yet there’s not a sense of him being the poet.

CATLETT: I think this book is very Orphic because, in the last part of the myth after Eurydice dies a second time, Orpheus is actually ripped apart by these Bacchanalia women, and he becomes an oracle. He gets more dangerous because he has had this experience. He becomes more of a threat and so he is destroyed. ‘Yellow Flowers’ is much more about this part of the myth, about how the culture turns away and has to destroy the thing it is afraid of.

I’ve never really been that interested in myth. I’ve never been that interested in Greek theatre, but I think a lot of my earlier work with Frame was really understanding what myth is in a different way.

Coming back to Hélène Cixous, she describes myth as trying to find the point of origin of all of these moments. In Orpheus you have this quintessential relationship of a man and a woman, where she’s always behind. He has to look back. So the question is: how does one subvert myths or change them at the root?

Cixous has a great way of reinterpreting Adam and Eve, which is that the knowledge is actually in the taste of the fruit, and that women have always been the ones that sought out the knowledge despite the risk. But it’s actually in the sensual kind of taste, and in the smell. And Adam is much more about prohibition and law. Like the policing of that stuff. When you go all the way back, then you can begin to unravel it on your own terms, which is what I think Frame is very much doing. I guess I’m much more of a seeker like this somehow. It feels a little bottomless sometimes, for me.

SIEGEL: I really appreciate the fact that in this collaboration, we can help and challenge each other in those ways, to see things differently and also to attend to the ways each other are seeing them. And the challenge of composing is always “what are people actually going to do?” You have to prescribe that in some ways if it’s going to have its own identity. I try to find that balance between setting things down in structurally immovable ways and letting the performers have some ownership of their material. I think that’s why composers get a bad rap, because of the sense that they’re inflexible. But trying to figure out how to attend to the form and also give space for the collaboration to feed into the process is really interesting.

CATLETT: Directors have that same sort of rap too. I think we’re both actually sensitive to that. I think we’re both aware of our power, and I think we share a skepticism about its necessity and danger. There was a point in my creative life where I realized that if I want performers to be invested, I have to do things that will undermine my authority.

(November 18, 2017)

The Nubian Word for Flowers; A Phantom Opera / Rainbird
Premiere of The Nubian Word for Flowers by Pauline Oliveros & IONE;

Scenes from Rainbird by Aaron Siegel & Mallory Catlett.

Thursday, November 30, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

 RAINBIRD: Chamber Opera Adaptations of a Janet Frame novel co-produced with Experiments in Opera. Composer Aaron Siegel with singers Gelsey Bell and Justin Hicks.
Gelsey Bell – Voice
Justin Hicks – Voice
Jade Hicks – Voice
Andie Springer – Violin
Aaron Siegel – Percussion
Matt Evans – Percussion
Mallory Catlett – Director

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dunedin Literary Walking Tours

Explore Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature with a knowledgeable guide.
Beverly Martens escorts a daily campus walking tour (10.30am start) as well as a city walking tour (2pm start).

For more info see the website:


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Anna Toscano on Janet Frame (in Italian)

Anna Toscano reads a poem in Italian by Janet Frame from the new book Parleranno Le Tempeste, published by Gabriele Capelli Editore (2017) and translated by Francesca Benocci and Eleonora Bello, in 'Janet Frame e le tempeste che parleranno' La Rivista
 Intelligente, 5 October 2017. The poem is 'The icicles'.

 'Janet Frame: la vita negli oggetti' by Anna Toscano, Doppiozero, 12 June 2017

'Scampoli di vite, Anna Toscano at Festival dei matti, Venice, 26 May 2017.

Anna Toscano, 'Polaroid del ricordo, Janet Frame' La Rivista Intelligente, 22 July 2013


New US edition of Janet Frame's autobiography

A new American edition of Janet Frame's complete 3-volume autobiography was published this year.
An Angel at My Table
Counterpoint Press 2017
List Price: US $24.95 
608 Pages
ISBN 9781619027886

The Sargeson Swerve

In September and October this year there was an exhibition called ‘The Sargeson Swerve: A Literary Life on Esmonde Road’ on at the Depot Artspace in Devonport. This was part of the Auckland Heritage Festival 2017.


Writer Frank Sargeson lived at 14 Esmonde Road from 1931 until his death in 1982.
Here, he created a literary oasis where writers lived, worked and partied.
It has been said that this was where New Zealand literature was born.
Once located in a quiet backwater, the little fibrolite bach on Esmonde Road was later overrun by a congested onramp for the Auckland Harbour Bridge from the 1950's.

Using artefacts such as the quilt made for Sargeson by Janet Frame, paintings of the bach interior by Graham Downs, sculpture, film, images and writing, this exhibition examines Sargeson’s influence on the development of New Zealand literature played out against the backdrop of Esmonde Road and the expanding city.
Even after Frank’s death the story continued. During later road widening, allowance had to be made for Frank’s ashes scattered in the front garden of the house.
This was known to the traffic engineers as ‘The Sargeson Swerve’.

Audiobook of Janet Frame's last novel

Winner: AudioFile Earphones Award 2017

Released this year by Bolinda: an audiobook of the last published novel of Janet Frame. Her 13th novel is a sparkling and readable social comedy, among other things. It's also a very clever parody of a variety of literary styles - see if you can detect which authors or literary movements she is paying homage to in a series of set pieces. It's also a sharp satire on literary hangers-on and on those who revel in exploiting posthumous reputations, which is rather interesting isn't it, for a book that was itself published posthumously?

The narrator is Humphrey Bower and the text is unabridged, taking 4 hours and 38 minutes to read.

ISBN: 9781489399687 
Genres: Fiction; Literary Fiction
Available worldwide in a variety of formats.
More about In the Memorial Room here:

Bolinda also has in stock the audiobook of Janet Frame's FIRST novel Owls Do Cry - a bestselling title for them. See details here.

A third Janet Frame audiobook available from Bolinda is her "lyrical, evocative" novel Towards Another Summer that became an instant favourite around the world after it was first published in 2007.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

There's Another Street Named for Janet Frame

I just recently learned that the 'Janet Frame Way' in the Hutt Valley, that is off Katherine Mansfield Drive, is not the only street in New Zealand named after Janet Frame. There is one in the Waikato too.

I've only had a quick look at Google Maps, but it seems that most of the streets in Leamington, Cambridge (a town in the Waikato district of New Zealand) are named after writers, both foreign and local. Frame Street, named after Janet Frame, lies between Tennyson and Carlyle, parallel to Browning.

Other Kiwi authors that are name checked, include: Sargeson Place, Knox Place, Glover Street, Mansfield Street, Ihimaera Terrace, Fairburn Place, Mahy Way, Hilliard Place, Grace Avenue and Dallas Place.

Janet Frame's Reprieve is a True Story

There are so many outrageous and fanciful myths told about Janet Frame.
People just seem to make up a new one every week.
But one unlikely tale is in fact true.
Janet Frame was misdiagnosed at the age of 21.
The incorrect label of 'schizophrenia' was attached to her through a misunderstanding and due to an incompetent medical establishment that took the word of an arrogant psychology postgrad student (her tutor) who was engaged in an emotional relationship with Janet Frame.
She became institutionalized and after years of abuse and unhappiness
she was scheduled for a lobotomy.
The book she had written before she entered the hospital system was finally published after the alcoholic editor who had accepted it but had sat on it for five years,
left that firm.
It was a book of brilliant short stories, published in March 1952, and not unexpectedly it won the major New Zealand literary prize for fiction,
The Hubert Church Award,
administrated by P.E.N.
Meanwhile, though, Janet Frame, languishing in despair,
was days away from a brain operation to try to make her 'normal'.
Medical staff thought she hallucinated. She didn't.
They thought she was delusional. She wasn't.
She was just more brilliant than anyone they had ever encountered.
She was a genius.
For most of the people around her, it was odd to even read a book let alone claim to have written one.
She may as well be speaking Martian to them.
The really mad people knew she was not one of them
(she told me this).
She also told me there were other people trapped in the hospital system,
like herself, who were not insane either, for example:
rejected wives who were surplus to requirements,
whose husbands committed them so they could be free to divorce them;
young promiscuous women who were an embarrassment to their families;
people with intellectual disabilities who would remain in the community today.
Anyway, just days away from the date of the operation,
the news of the book prize was published in the country's newspapers.
Janet Frame's doctor, Geoffrey Blake Palmer, read it, and suddenly realized that she might be better left as she was.
Janet Frame's cousin May Williamson clipped out the notices that week,
Christmas season 1952, and carefully kept them.
Thanks to her family sending me this scan,
we can see what the notice that the doctor read looked like:
The Press release was dated Wednesday the 24th of December 1952,
and it was published in the NZ Herald on Friday the 26th of December.
Frame's mother had been manipulated into signing a consent form for the lobotomy on the 20th of December. The letter she was sent did not fully explain what was to happen.
Frame's operation was scheduled for a few days later.
Frame's doctor read the news item and cancelled the operation.
All true.
"My writing saved me," said Janet Frame.

Friday, December 8, 2017

OWLS DO CRY 60th Anniversary 1957~2017

 Janet Frame's first novel Owls Do Cry was published in 1957, making this its 60th Anniversary. There are three current English language print editions of Owls Do Cry:  the Australasian one (Text Classic 2014), the UK/Commonwealth one (Virago Modern Classic 2015), and the American one (Counterpoint Press 2016). There is also an audio book available in several formats (produced by Bolinda).

Owls Do Cry is as fresh and relevant as ever, according to this marvellous review by Neil Hegarty in the Irish Times and the illuminating introduction written by Margaret Drabble.

Here are just some of the other covers of translated editions and older English language editions: