Thursday, October 16, 2014

"and then it was Now again"

A new book of New Zealand scholarship takes its title from a Janet Frame quote:

Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing
by Murray Edmond (Atuanui Press 2014)
ISBN: 978-0-9922453-6-8

The phrase "then it was Now again", taken by poet and academic Murray Edmond for his collection of essays, is lifted from a passage in Janet Frame's remarkable 1970 novel Intensive Care, and was first used by Edmond for the title of his paper 'Then it was now again: New Zealand Poetries and Colonial Histories' first published in 2000, and collected in this new volume.

It's a brilliant quote, and as quite a few other authors and editors have discovered, Janet Frame's words can make excellent titles, for example: "the colour of distance", "surfaces of strangeness", "inward sun", "I have what I gave" ...

Here is more of the chilling context for the phrase "and then it was Now", from Frame's novel Intensive Care, which some have called a dystopian science fiction novel, and other have called simply prophetic:

I came to the point of supposing it had all been
a dream, that I had got myself into a fictional city at a
fictional time, so strange that the present had split, like
the earth beneath me, and the past and its people and
seasons surged forth like a fountain, and then it was Now
again, a season with pear blossom, and the fires of the
dead were burning over Waipori City.
    I am making these few last notes. It is nearly four months
since Classification Day; it is almost the time that used to
be called Christmas. I’m able to make these notes because
I did not take part in the National Sleep Days, supervised
by the Sleep Patrol, that followed Classification Day; but
what I’m remembering may be distorted in that I do not
seem to be able to find a place to be while I remember.
After Classification Day, the Prime Minister spoke on
television and read a congratulatory telegram from old
King Charles. I remember I slept each night with a copy
of Horrohda under my pillow in the porch and my dreams
were haunted by the new code words — DOSP: Department
of Sleep Patrols, MOB: Memory Order Board, AID: Animal
Industries Division, SS: Skin Salvage, CUD: Corpse
Utilisation Department, DED: Dream Erasure Department,
HADES: Human Animal Decision Enquiry Services, SPCV
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetation. This
society was unexpected, but even in the first weeks
following Classification Day its membership began to
grow. The official opinion had been that the National
Sleep days would eliminate most of the unrest and human
concern which breeds such societies.
     I cannot explain why the Act was enforced with so
little violence and disturbance. The people lining up for
classification seemed to be placid enough, both before
and after the decision.

(From Intensive Care, by Janet Frame)

Monday, August 4, 2014

The 'Great' war - 100 years later

Photo: George Samuel Frame, Janet Frame's father

One hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany. Janet Frame's father George Samuel Frame served in the First World War as a sapper in the New Zealand engineers corps:

"Mum and Dad were married at the Registry Office in Picton three weeks before Dad sailed to the Great War. When Dad returned from the war, he and Mother set up house in Richardson Street, St Kilda, Dunedin, helped by a rehabilitation loan of twenty-five pounds, with which they bought one wooden kerb, one hearth rug, two Morris dining chairs, one duchesse, one oval dining table, one iron bedstead and flock mattress, one kitchen mat, these items being listed on the document of loan with a chilling reminder that while the loan remained unpaid, the King’s representative (the agreement was between ‘His Majesty the King and George Samuel Frame’) had the right to enter the Frame household to inspect and report on the condition of the ‘said furniture and fittings’. The loan was repaid after a few years, and the document of discharge kept by my parents in their most hallowed keeping place – the top right-hand drawer of the King’s duchesse – where were also kept my sister Isabel’s caul, Mother’s wedding ring, which did not fit, her upper false teeth, which also did not fit, Myrtle’s twenty-two-carat gold locket engraved with her name, and Dad’s foreign coins, mostly Egyptian, brought home from the war."

~ Janet Frame, from To the Is-Land (Autobiography Volume 1)

Apparently haunted by the whole issue of "the King's furniture", Janet Frame wrote a brilliant short story based on her real-life experience of the rehabilitation loan received by her father. She called this story 'Between My Father and the King' and it was published for the first time in 2012. The story opens the volume Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories released in New Zealand in August 2012 by Penguin Books NZ. The collection was also published the following year - with the title Between My Father and the King - by Counterpoint Press in the USA and by Wilkins Farago in Australia.

Some reviews of Between My Father & the King:
Boston Globe
Publishers Weekly
Landfall Online
New York Times Book Review
The Australian Book Review

The story 'Between My Father and the King' was published in November 2012 by the Manchester Review as part of a special Remembrance Day themed issue.

"Janet Frame is one of New Zealand’s greatest writers. Equally famous for her memoirs, poetry and fiction the Manchester Review is delighted to publish her characteristically sidelong, subversive account of her father’s return from what ‘used to be called the ‘Great’ war’. At a time when the centenary of World War I looms large on the UK’s cultural horizon, Frame’s short, fantastical account resists the piety and national feelings stoked up by some more recent commemorations."

You can read Janet Frame's story 'Between My Father and the King' online here.

Almost one hundred years after the events of WW1, the story 'Between My Father and the King' was identified by the Manchester Review as 'a controversial account of the Great War', so it's easy to see why Frame never submitted the story for publication during her lifetime. Several of the other previously unpublished stories in Gorse is Not People were suppressed or criticised by various literary gatekeepers for what they regarded at the time as 'unsuitable' subject matter. Frame seems to have self-censored some of her stories that were based too closely on people she knew, or that were overly critical of various sacred cows. As Frame said herself: "Posthumous publication is the only form of literary decency left."

The Manchester Review mistakenly categorised Frame's story as 'non-fiction' and it's easy to see why they should make that error, given the true life inspiration and the powerful imaginative force behind this small but astonishing piece of writing. Frame herself called it a short story: she listed it on a table of contents that she drew up for a book of new stories and poems that she was planning late in her life. And if you carefully compare the short story with the biographical facts it is based upon, you would be able to isolate several details that Frame has altered in order to create a more satisfying and coherent work of art. Other aspects of the short story, for example the poetic use of repetition, also mark the story out as belonging to a classic short fiction genre.

[Most of the content of this post has been taken from the earlier entry 'Lest We Forget' posted on this blog in November 2012] 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Antipodean Feast at London Festival

The inaugural Australian and New Zealand Festival of Literature and the Arts is now underway in London.

Stephen Romei of The Australian previewed the Festival:

'Making the Brits sit up and take some notice'

One of the highlights of the Festival for Frame fans will be the dazzling panel on Janet Frame chaired by Stella Duffy with participants Margaret Drabble, Linda Grant and Stephanie Johnson:

 An Angel at My Table: The Life and Work of Janet Frame

Janet Frame will also feature in a discussion on women writers. The panel consists of Romy Ash, Fay Weldon, Anna Funder and Mandy Hager, and is chaired by Antonia Hayes:

Their Brilliant Careers: Women's Writing in Australia & New Zealand


Friday, May 30, 2014

Quite a Sheila

Sheila Natusch (nee Traill) naturalist and author
at Owhiro Bay, Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington identity Sheila Natusch was interviewed recently by Kim Hill for Radio New Zealand National and answered some questions about her long friendship with Janet Frame, beginning when they were university students in Dunedin in the mid 1940s when both aspiring writers were training to be teachers:

The interview is worth listening to for other reasons than Sheila Natusch's connections to the now world famous Janet Frame. Sheila is a fascinating and accomplished person in her own right: naturalist, author and artist.

New Zealand's most misunderstood Icon

The journalist Kim Hill has unfortunately been well and truly brainwashed by the usual patronising myths about Janet Frame, so much so that she appears in this interview to be a bit conflicted about Frame's personal life and qualities. While she correctly does realise that Frame seemed to have had "a gift for friendship", Hill exclaims at one point "but she can't have had many friends!"

Why not? and for the record the belief that Frame did "not have many friends" could not be more wrong. Media spokespeople like Hill are among those who spread these half-baked notions so that a new generation of listeners think they know the "truth" or the "facts" about New Zealand's most misunderstood Icon, when they know neither.

Frame had a gift for friendship alright and she exercised it prolifically as is clear when reading Michael King's biography, even though King omitted mention of most of Frame's everyday friends. King was not too interested in the majority of Frame's friends who were not themselves 'famous', as Frame was herself wont to note dryly while the biography was being written. But even so, she had plenty of noted and notable friends, so the belief that she was a solitary recluse is unsupported by any evidence other than hearsay.

Hill also seems also to believe that Frame really was barking 'mad', as she wonders aloud whether or not Janet would have a better time these days in the mental institutions than she had in the old days. Sheila responded quickly that she doubted that Janet would be in hospital at all in this day and age. I should hope not, given that British psychiatric professionals in the 1950s unanimously declared that Frame was never mentally ill and should never have been institutionalized.

One of my favourite sayings is "A lie travels around the world while the truth is just getting its shoes on." I like to paraphrase it as: "The myth drives up in its own limousine while the real story is forced to wait for a bus that seldom comes."

I get the feeling that even though she is old and ill now, Sheila Natusch is the kind of person that would rather walk or catch the bus, because you learn more of value that way.

Among other things, Sheila and Janet had in common a deep love of nature and being in the outdoors. They both joined the University's tramping club and went on bush hikes together. Janet was a healthy and energetic person who kept up her love of vigorous rambles until later life when arthritis unfortunately prevented her from walking more than short distances. (James K. Baxter, his wife J.C. Sturm and their children were among other close friends of Frame's who accompanied her on long hikes in the countryside.)
Sheila in her private cable car
Sheila in her cottage at the top of the cable car
Janet Frame wrote to her friend Sheila Traill in 1947:
"I am keeping your letters so that one day when you are famous and all your manuscripts have been found and people are racking their brains to find out what the REAL S Traill was like, lo I will produce your letters and say behold the REAL S Traill, and people will give me guineas and trips to Hollywood and offer me film contracts and they will put your letters under a glass case in the museum..."
It was in fact Sheila who had occasion to publish Janet's letters, and what an interesting record they give of the brilliant young woman at odds with the world around her. Among them are some revealing letters written from Seacliff Mental Hospital.

Letters From Jean by Sheila Natusch and Janet Frame,
First Published 1st June 2004 by Nestegg Books.
Some of Sheila Natusch's many other publications:

Pamela Gordon and Sheila Natusch

Friday, May 23, 2014

They just make it up

Today a brand new Janet Frame anecdote emerged out of the back rooms and entered the public realm. It was told as an afterthought to a blog post about an extended interview with another great Kiwi author Keri Hulme. The journalist Ali Ikram described Hulme as " a notoriously reclusive famously cantankerous writer" (although from the lengthy TV item that emerged it seemed that Hulme had been very generous with her time and her responses). Ikram, debriefing with his producer, consoled himself with the thought that his difficult interview with Hulme wasn't as bad as an alleged notorious interview had apparently gone with with Janet Frame:

“At least it went better than when John Sellwood interviewed Janet Frame. She wouldn’t let him in the house and spoke through a crack in the door, then chased him round the garden with a broom.” Yet such a reaction from a brilliant loner doesn’t always mean they don’t like you. Janet was fond of John. In her will Frame specified it was to be he who played the bagpipes at her funeral. There he was, a character in her final scene.

I was amazed to read this pack of nonsense. When am I ever going to get used to the way these people invent such rubbish, and then embellish it? And surely some rational soul will demur? And suggest this can't be true? Not so. Not only that, but the usual suspects sniff a derogatory story about Janet Frame on the breeze and come running. It shores up their already held false beliefs, of course, so they won't question it. So, for example, journalist Philip Matthews, a strong supporter of the Professor Evans fictional/feral "Janet", as exemplified in the revenge fantasy novel (and stage play) Gifted, which Matthews vigorously promoted and defended, fell with alacrity on the anecdote:

Philip Matthews @secondzeit
I like the story about John Sellwood and Janet Frame. @RuminatorNZ @AliIkram
Of course he did.

But what was true, and what was a lie? I can tell you, because I was present on the relevant occasion.

(1) "she wouldn't let him in the house" FALSE
The friendly Janet Frame warmly and kindly invited John Sellwood, his cameraman, Michael King (whose biography on Frame was the reason for the filming) and myself, into her home, to sit at her dining table, for scones, biscuits and tea. She was a good host and perhaps someone should ask John Sellwood (and his offsider whose name I forget) for their first person version of these events, because I find it hard to believe that they are the ones dehumanising Janet Frame in such a churlish fashion after having been treated to her hospitality.

(2) "spoke through a crack in the door" FALSE
Well you can see that this bizarre misrepresentation is untrue if you look at the edited news item as it appeared on TV:

At one point, Janet Frame does open her front door, after being filmed (at the journalists' request!) closing it. The journalists and biographer have bid farewell, filmed her closing the door, and she, having thought that the filming was over, opened the door again, to say goodbye properly (not just on camera) only to find she had been ambushed by the still waiting camera, even though she had already generously carried out all the agreed activities in support of publicity for Michael's book: being filmed chatting affably to him, etc. It was never intended to be an interview; Frame only agreed to being filmed greeting Michael at the gate, but the camera had been left running surreptitiously and some secretly filmed pieces of conversation were broadcast. Despite her cooperation, to then have the clip of her opening the door again being used to falsely depict her as antisocial and reclusive, is unfair, but typical.

(3) "chased him around the garden with a broom" FALSE
This is a toxic fancy. It seems to have a touch of tarring her as a "witch" about it, and seems to link to the hostility earlier expressed towards Hulme. I would guess this is a relatively new rhetorical embellishment to the anecdote (in each retelling these kind of stories about Frame - this is not unique! - are added to and polished up).

(4) "yet such a reaction from a brilliant loner doesn't always mean they don't like you"
Lumping Frame and Hulme together here as "loners" is based on trumped-up evidence in the case of Frame. I know that Janet was never a loner, and I have met Keri often enough in sociable company to suspect that she doesn't exactly fit the stereotype she has been fitted with either. Frame was choosy about how she spent her time and who she spent it with. That didn't make her a loner.

(5) "Janet was fond of John" TRUE
She did get on well with John: he's a likeable chap and she was a charming personable old lady. And she had a soft spot for bagpipe players.

(6) "In her will Janet Frame specified it was to be he that played the bagpipes" FALSE
They just made that up! It's a good story though!

Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

(7) "There he was, a character in her final scene." TRUE, although  this last statement has been nicely shaped to fit the fiction of the anecdote. Or has the anecdote been shaped and enhanced to build up to the ending?

John Sellwood did very kindly play the bagpipes at Janet Frame's funeral. But not after being chased by Janet with a broom and being spoken to through a crack in the door and being rejected and not finding of her supposed affection until after her death when the will was read; that's a fable, a demeaning lie. Sellwood and Frame had a brief but uproarious and chatty human encounter, as well as partaking in a calculated professional exchange. He agreed to play at her funeral after being asked by her family to do so, being known as he was to play the bagpipes and being available on the scene, and having the advantage of not being a total stranger. And he did the deed as a human being and not as a journalist, carrying out a social obligation. He had used his bagpipes to gain access to Janet, and his facility with the bagpipes was in turn used by her family to farewell her at her funeral. It was a fitting part for him to play.


Why do people make up outrageous lies about celebrities? I don't know why, but I know they do, because of my connection to New Zealand's most famous author Janet Frame. The myths and fairy-tales and the malicious gossip swirling around her life story pretty much overwhelm the actual facts of her life and of her work. People actually seem to prefer the untruths about Janet Frame and they resent anyone who tries to present them with the evidence that questions their incorrect ideas. That is called 'the backlash effect' and recently there was an excellent article in The New Yorker about it. The article was about how you really can't change the mind of a committed "anti-vaccer", and it also referred to other false beliefs, such as those held by climate change deniers, but I also related the principles in the article to the fact that the more I point out that Janet Frame was not a recluse, that she was not disordered, she was not autistic, she was just a genius, a rare and brilliant creative artist who was woefully misunderstood, then the more that those people who are interested in preserving the myths about Janet Frame, insist that I am "overprotective" and that I'm "hiding something". And they seem to exaggerate their false beliefs about her even more to the extent that she becomes in their minds a caricature of the mad genius, barely able to function in the real world.

Not everyone believes this celebrity gossip rubbish of course, thankfully. A lot of the nonsense invented about Janet Frame has misogynist overtones so I would hope that feminists might be able to see through the familiar strategies that have long been used to belittle prominent or promising women, and question the demeaning anecdotes. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Significant relationships

Aerogramme from Janet Frame (changed by deed poll to Clutha) to Charles Brasch, 1970, Charles Brasch papers, Hocken Collections, University of Otago, New Zealand

The scripted literary reading Dear Charles, Dear Janet will feature tomorrow at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival 2014.

This Dunedin event offers a unique link to Charles Brasch and Janet Frame in that Alan Roddick, literary executor and friend of Charles Brasch, will read from Brasch's last letters to Frame alongside Pamela Gordon, Janet Frame's niece and literary executor, who will read from Janet Frame's last letters to Brasch. Also reading for Brasch, who was the founding editor of the influential New Zealand literary magazine Landfall, is the current editor of Landfall, poet and critic David Eggleton. Also reading for Janet Frame - from her first tentative submissions to the august editor of Landfall -  is Georgina O'Reilly, a student at the University of Otago.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Janet Frame event for London Festival

Saturday May 31st 10am - 11am
King's College London

With Margaret Drabble, Kerry Fox, Stephanie Johnson  

Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts

Janet Frame was one of New Zealand’s most respected writers, admired around the world for her startlingly original insights into the human condition. Her insistence on living anonymously, combined with the powerful authenticity of her fiction led to biographical speculations that Frame consistently denounced.

In order to tell her side of the story, she published to much acclaim a three volume autobiography: it became a bestseller in New Zealand and cemented a strong readership internationally. Jane Campion’s film adaptation starring Kerry Fox paralleled this success by winning awards and attracting strong audiences. What followed for Frame was international recognition far beyond the literary world, and double the number of language translations.

But what were the myths, and how did they compare to the realities of Janet Frame’s life, and the work she produced? Our distinguished panel, all affected deeply by Frame’s work, will discuss Frame’s influence on them and her legacy today.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Great Kiwi Classic - new edition

"The best book ever written by a New Zealander" ~ Jane Campion
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
Introduced by Margaret Drabble
May 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An emphasis on highbrow literature

The Janet Frame Estate's magnificent literary agent Andrew Wylie was interviewed last year for New Republic (7 October 2013). They called him "the reigning king of the backlist" and note that "his distaste for commercial fiction" is "legendary".

"It might seem that Wylie’s single-minded emphasis on highbrow literature would have made him an early casualty of the turmoil in book publishing. Instead, he has thrived—throughout the rise of the mega-bookstores, the emergence of Amazon, and the e-book turf war over digital rights and royalties."

The Wylie Agency's client list is staggering: as you start at the beginning of the alphabet, you notice the procession of great and good names, alive and dead. The estates! For instance, the Diane Arbus Estate, J.G. Ballard Estate, Jorge Luis Borges Estate,  Saul Bellow Estate, Roberto Bolaño Estate, Joseph Brodsky Estate, William Burroughs Estate, Italo Calvino Estate, Raymond Carver Estate... And the sparks fly impressively, right until the end of the list.

Some quotable quotes from the man himself:

"Unless you’re a terribly bad writer, you are never going to have too many readers."

"The Frankfurt Book Fair is my idea of heaven."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Charles and Janet at DWRF 2014

Dear Charles, Dear Janet

Graphic: Otago Daily Times
Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival 2014
A portrait of the growth of the friendship between legendary Dunedinites Janet Frame and Charles Brasch using their own words written to and about each other: correspondence, poems, diary and memoir. This scripted reading premiered as ‘Can You Hear Me, Whangaparaoa?’  in front of a full house at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in 2009 and is presented in Dunedin for the first time courtesy of the Janet Frame Literary Trust.

 “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)
FREE Door entry  |  Saturday 10 May  |  Dunningham Suite, Dunedin Public Library  |  1pm-1.45pm

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Beautiful additions to Frame's extraordinary oeuvre" ~ The Australian

Skeletons of the fabulous
Felicity Plunkett of The Australian newspaper has reviewed two new Janet Frame titles that were recently published in Australia: The Mijo Tree (Penguin 2013) and Between My Father and the King (Wilkins Farago 2013).
It's a superbly intelligent and perceptive review, well worth reading (the reviewer is herself a poet).
 "Like the mijo seed, Frame sought an exceptional creative life. She tore the dark fruit of her early days apart and found in them seed for work that continues to appear, blossoming in this, her posthumous phase."
"Many of Janet Frame's stories are boned with the skeleton of the fabulous. With their 'once upon a time', their anthropomorphism and their small, clear fairytale phrasing, only gradually do they reveal their powerful musculature and darker currents."
"These two works are beautiful additions to Frame's extraordinary oeuvre."

Janet Frame Memorial Lecture 2014

will be held on Monday the 10th of March 2014 at 6.15 pm
at the Adam Auditorium of the Wellington City Galley
Doors open at 5.45 pm
Admission is free
The Mouth of the Whale (The Power of Pictures)
by Gavin Bishop
In his lecture celebrated children's author and illustrator Gavin Bishop will focus on the role of illustration in literature.
The Janet Frame Memorial Lecture 2014 is sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Authors in association with the New Zealand Festival and the City Gallery Wellington.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Janet Frame stories in Slovenian


Vstopate v človeško srce

(You are now entering the human heart
and other stories)

Janet Frame

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Still winning prizes

Ten years after her death, Janet Frame's writing is still picking up awards. The radio drama adaptation of her 3-volume autobiography AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (first broadcast on BBC4 last January) recently won the BBC Radio Drama Award for Best Series at the 2014 BBC Audio Drama Awards.

Lorraine Ashbourne (who plays Janet Frame), Philip Glenister (who presented the award), Anita Sullivan and Karen Rose
(BBC Media Centre).
Congratulations to Sweet Talk, to Anita Sullivan and Karen Rose, and to all the actors!

Of course for such a win to take place there are also a host of other people that have contributed to the success of the final production in our own various ways, and I'm sure we are all feeling pleased and satisfied that the excellence of this adaptation has been acknowledged.

See more about the adaptation on Anita Sullivan's web page.

For more context see my earlier posts:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NZ Herald Greatest New Zealanders

As part of their 150th Anniversary celebrations late last year the New Zealand Herald ran a 'New Zealander of the Year' series in which they retrospectively named our 'Greatest New Zealanders'.

Janet Frame was accorded this honour twice: New Zealander of the Year 1957 ('Literary Spellbinder') when her first novel Owls Do Cry was published, and New Zealander of the Year 1983 ('A Writer's Story') when she published To the Is-Land, the first volume of her bestselling autobiography.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Janet Frame's last words

Cartoon © Tom Scott
First published in the Dominion Post 30 January 2004
(reproduced by kind permission)
This week marks the 10th anniversary of Janet Frame's death from leukemia on the 29th of January 2004 at Dunedin Hospital where she had been admitted only a little over 48 hours beforehand.
Until then, for the several months after she had been diagnosed with the terminal illness, my aunt had managed to stay at her own home with my help as companion and caregiver. We had the support of the Otago Hospice, of the district nurses and home help staff provided by the local health board, and the Meals on Wheels service, and also from the wonderful volunteers of the Cancer Society.
Close friends and family also rallied around. Janet was able to bid farewell to a host of her friends and family and colleagues over that time, and as she had lived her life, she approached her end with courage, wisdom, wit, good humour and a sense of adventure. She was strong and lucid and conscious to her very last breath. Only in those last two days when she was admitted to hospital did talking became too difficult for her, but even then she was still able to communicate by mouthing simple but heartfelt expressions such as "thank you".
Her last actual words were spoken early on the 27th January not long after she reached the emergency room at the hospital. The medical staff had indicated that she was approaching the end and that they would admit her to the oncology ward to try to make her as comfortable as possible. She said:
"So this is it, then."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The hunt for the Great Kiwi Classic

A Great Kiwi Classic: Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame. 
The New Zealand Book Council has launched a "hunt for the Great Kiwi Classic":  they are asking the book lovers of New Zealand to "help us choose the most loved Kiwi read".
They have asked readers to make their nominations on a special Facebook page:
or to email the Book Council at
The selected classic New Zealand book(s) will be the focus of a session at this year's Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.
Titles by Janet Frame are in the lead
Counting the nominations on the Facebook page so far, titles by Janet Frame outnumber those of any other author. Novelist Maurice Gee comes in a close second, also with a variety of titles selected. Janet Frame's novel Owls Do Cry has more votes than any other nominated title (although as you'd expect her 3 volume autobiography collected under the title An Angel at My Table also has a strong representation). Coming a close second is the Edmonds Cook Book and the novel Coal Flat by Bill Pearson currently appears to be running at third.
Other strong contenders are of course The Bone People by Keri Hulme, and Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace have several greatly loved titles nominated.
The humorous publications by Barry Crump and the Footrot Flats cartoon series also make an appearance.
Poetry lovers have also made an appearance (Janet Frame's The Goose Bath has been mentioned). The Kiwi love for our poets seems to me to be one of our best kept secrets. The best loved popular poets such as Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, Brian Turner and Sam Hunt have all produced long lasting bestsellers that have moved outside the influence of the literary elitists and the ivory tower.
It seems a bit silly to me to have a recipe book jostling for attention with classic New Zealand fiction, so I do hope that the convenors of this exercise relax their criteria a little and allow 'winners' in several categories - fiction, non-fiction, lifestyle, contemporary and historical, as well as poetry.
But of course no matter what the organisers choose and however they manage their decisions, their main goal must be to spark discussion and generate interest in the reading riches that New Zealand has provided - which is a good thing!
And whether or not Owls Do Cry or An Angel at My Table (or any other of Frame's greatly loved and best-selling masterpieces) are recognised as THE Great Kiwi Classic, nothing can take away from the fact that they are great Kiwi classics!
Owls Do Cry was first published in 1957 to instant awe and acclaim - it had rapid sales and a quick reprint. And it has never been out of print in well over 50 years! (What other NZ classic can make such a claim? Probably only the Edmonds Cook Book!!)
Since 1957 Owls Do Cry has had dozens of different editions and hundreds of reprints all around the world. Its first foreign translation was in 1961 and it continues to have repeat foreign editions published (new editions in German and Italian most recently) and to be translated into new languages (the most recent new translations have been into Swedish and Turkish).
In 2007 the Janet Frame Literary Trust released a 50th anniversary edition through Random House NZ.
In 2014 it is time to refresh the publication cycle of this great New Zealand classic once again, and we have an exciting new paperback edition coming up for release before the middle of the year - a Text Classic Edition of Owls Do Cry. (More details soon!)
We have also recently negotiated a renewal of our agreement with Bolinda Publishing to distribute their very successful audio book of Owls Do Cry internationally.
And finally - I hope to have good news very soon about a new UK edition of Owls Do Cry.