Friday, January 29, 2010

Writers' Walk, The Octagon, Dunedin

A plaque honouring Janet Frame lies next to the statue of Robert Burns in the upper Octagon.

NZ ONSCREEN Janet Frame Collection

NZ ONSCREEN has prepared a comprehensive memorial tribute to Janet Frame that went live on their web site today, timed to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Janet Frame's death.

Among the rare resources on offer, you can view the entire Vincent Ward film adaptation of Janet Frame's novel A State of Siege. This particular item will only be available for a short time so I recommend you make the most of it! Vincent Ward's prizewinning short film (50 minutes) is a brilliant interpretation of the original story, a work of art in itself.

There are also two interviews with Janet Frame herself, one when she was about 50 years old, and in the other briefer one she was aged in her late 70s.

And there's an intelligent and upbeat essay by Roger Horrocks on the topic of the filmic adaptations of Janet Frame's literary works.

There's also a documentary about Janet Frame's friend and one-time mentor the New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson who provided shelter for her while she wrote her first novel.

Sixth Anniversary

28 August 1924 ~ 29 January 2004

Monday, January 25, 2010

Janet Frame on Charity

"I do believe and I hope I carry out the belief that civilised, constructive acts should never finish - that if one is done to me I must continue it by trying to help someone else. Whether this is an attempt to be unselfish or to salve my conscience I don't know."

(Letter to Charles Brasch, 9 August 1969)

The above is among the many insights to be found in a tribute volume Janet Frame's executors have compiled in order to commemorate the centenary of Charles Brasch.

The text is drawn mostly from the letters between Janet and Charles, but also quotes from their poems written for each other, and from autobiography and journal entries and other letters.

Charles Brasch was a poet, editor, patron and philanthropist, and was a close friend of Janet Frame's.

Available soon, in a fine edition, from Holloway Press:

Dear Charles, Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence

Edited by Pamela Gordon & Denis Harold

Holloway Press (2010)

New York Times Review noticed in NZ

New Zealand novelist and blogger Mary McCallum recently noticed the brilliant NY Times review from last May, of the US edition of Towards Another Summer.

Here's Mary's post on the subject, on her blog O Audacious Book.

Thanks for raising the topic Mary!

'New' story reaches New Zealand

Another 'new' short story by Janet Frame had its first New Zealand publication recently. 'Dot' appeared in the Sunday Star-Times on Sunday the 10th of January 2010. It was accompanied by a beautifully suitable illustration by Pam Templeton.

'Dot' was first published in the USA in A Public Space Issue Number 7 (which has since sold out).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Buzz in Sweden

Have found quite a few reviews of the Swedish translation

I have to rely on Google translator's sometimes bizarre, often poetic, but usually helpful renditions of the Swedish into English, to note that the buzz seems very positive on the whole. Perhaps, going through the terrible winter, readers in Sweden are enjoying Janet Frame's brilliant descriptions of the snow and the cold in one of the coldest winters England had suffered (the novel was written during the big freeze of 1963) until, well, this winter.

Who Reads This Blog?

I was curious so I had a look. The stats software package Site Meter is installed here, but I rarely bother to check the figures and details.

It seems that most of the readers of this blog are located in the UK, Europe and the USA, and there are quite a few from Canada, some from Mexico and dotted around South America. There are also regular hits from Malaysia, Japan, Australia. Not much more than 5% of the hits seem to be from Janet Frame's own home country of New Zealand. (Of course some people cover their tracks and are from "unknown" places - maybe the Kiwis are the shy ones; it's known to be a national trait. But NZ has a very small population in world terms.)

Some recent country names include Oman, Estonia, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, France. There are quite a few hits from Sweden (as there's been a recent publication there attracting lots of positive attention). There's a cherry pick of US cities and States: Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, Colorado, San Diego, Massachussetts. Etc. And Sussex, London, Birmingham, are frequent visitors. Etc.

Of course not all the readers registered by the site stats software intended to find this blog. Google can take you to some strange far flung places. For instance, recently a hopeful soul Googled "Janet and Michael" and found my post about Janet Frame and her biographer Michael King. The net surfer had apparently been searching for news of Janet and Michael Jackson...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Towards Another Summer in Norway

Mot en ny sommer - Norwegian translation
of Towards Another Summer
out now from Oktober

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Praises for Prizes

"Janet Frame ranks as one of the great writers of our time"

(The L Magazine, New York)

The L Magazine reviewer notes "Frame's enormous range in voice and subject matter" and concludes that the collection Prizes: The Selected Stories of Janet Frame (Counterpoint, USA 2009) presents "a full and vibrant picture of Frame's tremendous gifts".

Denver Books Examiner rates Prizes at 5 Stars, saying the comprehensive selection of Frame's classic short stories (with the addition of some previously uncollected stories) succeeds in"showcasing her as a groundbreaking writer".

"Frame's graciously excoriating stories are iridescently alive"

(A rave review from the American Library Association's Booklist)

"Frame locates loneliness, fear and judgement... This is a fine look at Frame's life through her immortalizing fiction"

Friday, January 8, 2010

Michael King on the real Janet Frame

In 2002 Janet Frame's biographer Michael King followed up his substantial biography released 2 years earlier, by releasing a companion volume of photographs he referred to as a "shorter Janet Frame". This pictorial essay of her life is called An Inward Sun: the world of Janet Frame (Penguin 2002, ISBN 14 301838 8). Janet and her friends called the book the "family photo album" or "the coffee table biography".

Iain Sharp of the Sunday Star-Times reviewed the book and interviewed Michael King for a feature article which was published in the newspaper on Sunday September 15 2002 under the heading "In the Frame":

"In his new book, Michael King discusses the mystique surrounding New Zealand's most famous living writer and the way she differs from how most people imagine her."

Sharp starts:
"Some of the photos in Michael King's new pictorial biography are startling. There are shots of Frame tap-dancing, grinning on a family picnic, larking around with friends on a beach, whizzing around the North Island on her motor scooter and pausing thoughtfully with a pool cue while working out how best to demolish the opposition. This isn't how much of us think of Frame. The dominant image is of the painfully shy recluse haunted by memories of her harsh early years... There ought to be no photos at all, or at best, just a shot of Frame's famous red hair as she ducks for cover from hated paparazzi."

Sharp then quotes Michael King:

"Janet has a smile that comes from deep within. She's capable, at any time, of this sudden transforming radiance, which I also regard as a kind of inward sun."

Of the cover image showing Janet and her sister Myrtle, who drowned when Janet was 12 years old, Michael says:
"It's a heartbreaking image because it makes clear at a glance what a traumatic loss Myrtle's early demise must have been for Janet. But it's beautiful too. Poor as they were, the Frame sisters possessed an inner joy that nothing could take away."
"I think Kerry Fox did a marvellous job in the film of capturing the delicate vulnerability that Janet undoubtedly had as a young woman. Of course, it also contributed to the mystique of the mad genius who emerges from years of ill treatment."

"Janet has a strongly developed sense of what's public and what's private and she certainly likes to protect her privacy. But the notion that she's some kind of perpetually frightened, autistic creature who shrinks from all human contact just isn't true."

POSTSCRIPT: See also the post Frame was not autistic says Michael King

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Now for the good news

The mail today brought some lovely hardback copies hot off the press, of the Swedish translation of Towards Another Summer, Mot Annu en Sommar published by Albert Bonniers Forlag.

It's a beautiful novel that has led some people to believe is a delicate and sensitive portrayal of an autist's inner life. Others think of it as a crystalline insight into the complexity of the brilliant artist's inner life as she struggles to adapt in an unfeeling world. Others take the novel as a simple meditation on homesickness and the loneliness of the expatriate. Frame uses a weekend spent with near-strangers as a metaphor for living in a foreign country. In both cases one doesn't yet know the acceptable cultural norms and despite all goodwill, can never settle and feel at home as one does with one's own close family and in one's homeland. Other readers have adopted a social class analysis for the discomfort of the protagonist - by pointing out the wry and humorous descriptions Frame works into the text, of a working class fish out of water who finds herself at odds with the upper middle class environment her literary fame has propelled her into. Yet others just enjoy the exquisite writing for its incisive and deep portrayal of human nature, of the minutiae of social interaction, and for its sometimes virtuoso descriptions of the natural environment.

Sunday, January 3, 2010



Sadly we greeted the New Year with the news that one of Janet Frame's closest friends had died in Wellington the day before New Year's Eve.

Janet and Jacquie were "bff" until the day of Janet's death, when Jacquie urgently flew to be by Janet's bedside at the very end, and beyond - with Jacquie and other Baxter whanau singing traditional Maori laments at Janet's funeral, at her memorial service, and at her graveside.

Jacquie and Janet were typical close women friends, both mischievous, wicked, both poets, sharing jokes and secrets and telling each other everything. They were once described, while they were on a tour of France together, as behaving like "a couple of peasant women who communicated non-verbally in a series of nudges, changes of expression and giggles" (as reported by Anton Vogt, who drove the pair from Menton to Monte Carlo).

Their decades of friendship extended back to university days in Dunedin. They both received "vocational guidance" counselling from their psychology tutor John Money. (My parents were also part of the wider social circle in those days and Dad and Jacquie both told me separately that Jacquie had "dated" Dad before she took up with his friend the poet James K Baxter from the well-known pacifist family - this was before my father met Mum!)

The friendship between Janet and both the Baxters evolved into a close companionship with the whole Baxter family when Janet moved to Dunedin in the 1960s. She socialised, had meals, visited their relatives at Brighton near Dunedin, and went on tramping holidays with Jacquie and Jim and the kids.

Jacquie was one of Janet's most faithful friends and always preserved her privacy in the way you'd hope your real friends would. And the feeling was mutual.

Farewell beautiful woman, my mentor and my friend too. I'll miss you.