Friday, December 31, 2010

Nurse to the imagination

Wednesday the 21st of January 2011
Paris, France
Another Symposium on Janet Frame's writing

Janet Frame wrote the short stories in this classic book, The Lagoon and Other Stories, in 1946 while she was working as a "housemaid-waitress-nurse", caring for elderly people at a rest home in Caversham, Dunedin.

Frame said of this time:

"I had gentleness and everlasting patience with the sick and the old. I enjoyed waiting on people, attending to their comfort, doing as they asked, bringing the food they ordered. I had no impatience, irritation, anger, to subdue; I seemed to be a "born" servant. The knowledge frightened me: I was behaving as my mother had done all the years I had known her, and I was enjoying my new role: I could erase myself completely and live only through the feelings of others." (An Angel at My Table)

There is a widespread and incorrect belief that Frame wrote these stories while she herself was confined in a mental hospital; it's simply not true, of course, in fact as she was the nurse, it's quite the opposite. But perhaps the invention seems more "romantic" to those who spread this and other myths about Frame.

Another fact to note is that Frame wrote this book, that is now on this prestigious syllabus in France, nearly ten years before ever meeting the NZ literary figure who is sometimes erroneously credited with "teaching Janet Frame to write". Apparently Frank Sargeson did arrogantly attempt to "improve" Frame's writing, but fortunately she resisted strongly. He of course resented her failure to submit to his chidings, which has led rise to another bizarre belief: that Frame was a "difficult" house guest. Being stubborn and self-directed, she was undoubtedly difficult to bully, and to mould, which seems to have overly distressed the rather hysterical Sargeson, who clearly blamed Frame for the resulting "tension" in the house.

In writing the Lagoon stories many years beforehand, Frame did acknowledge having been inspired by her wide reading in the classics since childhood, as well as her familiarity with modern world literature, and she also cited her recent discovery of contemporary New Zealand fiction and poetry as an influence, although she insisted that she drew most directly on the stories of American author William Saroyan as a model.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The pride of the hospital

This magnolia tree in the grounds of the former Seacliff Hospital north of Dunedin has become known as "Janet Frame's magnolia". It was in fact, a magnolia in the garden of a doctor's residence. Frame immortalised such a magnolia in her novel drawing on her hospital experiences, and there is a plaque honouring her at the base of the tree.

The plaque was first unveiled in 1997, but a more permanent base was installed for it in March 2004, when it was rededicated at a ceremony attended by many Seacliff locals.


The plaque quotes a passage from Janet Frame that mentions "the magnolia tree (the pride of the hospital) in bloom" ~ Faces in the Water



Juliet Novena Sorrel reads from Janet Frame's writings.
Sunday March 28th 2004







Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jingle Bell Rock

This was Janet Frame's sound-activated novelty Xmas Tree. It looked like a fairly harmless artificial tree, but when activated it sprang into a most alarming loud chorus of "Jingle Bell Rock", and this not entirely benign-looking face appeared, accompanied by a lascivious hip-swaying and eyebrow-raising and wide open mouth-flapping. The eyes lit up too!

For several years, it alarmed many a visitor at Janet's house at holiday season, lying in wait like a booby trap. It did the same to her cat Penny, and later her cat Chilli, and to various friends and family members, and it even managed to catch Janet by surprise now and then too, sometimes seeming to be set off by the smallest sound or movement.

Somebody has posted a clip of the same kind of tree, on youtube.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my friends and well-wishers a very Happy Christmas and to thank you for all your support in this very difficult year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Season's Greetings


Wishing all the readers of this blog a safe and happy holiday.

Mona Minim

Mona as she appears in the Random House New Zealand (2005) edition
of Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun
(Illustration by David Elliot)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Uncle George


George Frame, Pamela Gordon, June Gordon
Oamaru 1986 (photo Wilson Gordon)

Janet Frame's brother George Frame died on the 20th of December 1989. May he rest in peace.

From all accounts, George Frame of Oamaru, Janet Frame's brother, known as 'Geordie', had a pretty bad reputation in his home town. Probably the one person who has done the most over the years to publicise a negative image of Janet Frame's brother George, is the academic Patrick Evans, who in multiple essays such as his obituary of Frame reports George to be "eccentric" and even "dangerous", "fanciful", "narcissistic", a "constant irritant", and describes him as "nasty, brutish, and short", and admits that "he scared me".

Even more monstrously, after George Frame's death, Patrick Evans started speculating publicly that either Geordie or his father George Frame Senior had sexually abused Janet.*

Now Frame never talked like this about her brother. She denied the salacious suggestions vehemently, and this sort of over-personal, creepily familiar and inappropriate focus on her and her wider family was why she despised Evans. A prominent Auckland literary figure (Christine Cole-Catley) reminded me recently that Janet had openly referred to Patrick Evans as a "stalker".

Evans is well known for giving undue attention to peripheral members of Frame's circle; he admits it himself, because he was spurned by Frame and her closest family and friends. In a recently published online essay about Frame's life he says:
"Her brother George's increasingly public eccentricity - later in life he regularly wore highland regalia - created further difficulties and embarrassments that continued throughout much of Janet's life, leading eventually to their estrangement." (Te Ara)
This is a typically skewed and speculative, and subjective, pronouncement from Evans about Frame. The more he obsesses about her, the less he seems to know about her. It doesn't seem to occur to him to take her own word about herself. He has to impose his own fantasy (so much so that he has recently decided to discard footnotes and research and fictionalise his Janet Frame, in order for his demeaning theories to be taken halfway seriously, or even be listened to at all.)

The quote shows how little Patrick Evans understands about Frame even now. George's wearing of highland regalia was not something that embarrassed Janet Frame by any means. She and the rest of her family were proud of their Scottish heritage. That would have been one of the things about George that Janet Frame celebrated.

If Janet Frame became estranged from her brother, it was nothing to do with embarrassment at his wearing of a kilt. It would have been more to do with his habit of seeking media attention by exploiting his family relationship to her. That was one thing she found unforgivable.

In fact, despite his harassments, Janet Frame never totally rejected George. She cared about her brother and did her duty (as she saw it) by him to the very end. She even paid for the brand new cottage he lived in for the last months of his life after his own dilapidated old shed burnt down in August 1988. (George died in December 1989.)

Janet Frame had also yielded her own share of the family property to her brother after their parents died. She took away some few mementos at that time to share with her sister June, but the large bulk of Frame family heirlooms and papers and books and photos were left with George. Much of this material was left to rot as the old house "Willowglen" up on the hill gradually disintegrated over the years. At some point, recognising the wastage, some literary pilgrims rescued a few of those papers and donated them to a Library. One assumes that everything else that George had held onto was destroyed when his hut - located down in the valley - was burnt down. According to his obituary of Frame, Patrick Evans seemed to have come into possession of some of George's keepsakes, so one hopes they have now been restored to George's immediate family, who can decide what to do with them.

*The photograph above was taken in 1986, when my parents were visiting the South Island. I was living in Dunedin by then and met with George quite a few times over the following years before his death. Like Janet, my mother had always tried her best to be a good sister to George and always kept in touch and helped him out. He used to stay with us in Auckland when I was a child. I need to put this generosity on record (in any case there is plenty of evidence for it in the King biography) because there has been public misinformation on this topic recently to the effect that my family allegedly ostracised George. Considering his difficult behaviour (including taking her hostage at gunpoint!), my mother acted in a saintly manner towards him. She always allowed for the fact he had a difficult life with bad health from a young age, and was kind and respectful towards him, even though she was clearly afraid of his tempers (I remember him shouting, when he stayed with us when I was young).

About a year after this photo was taken, George was taken ill while travelling and ended up in Wellington Hospital. My parents drove down from their home in Levin to visit him, but weren't happy to be rung by the hospital after their return with the request that George be released to recuperate at their place. This was the last straw for Mum, who had suffered many years of emotional blackmail from a brother who had learned to use his disabilities as a manipulative tool to get his own way. She pointed out that George had his own immediate family back in Oamaru (a son and a daughter) and that she did not wish to be named as "next of kin". She had little to do with him after that. In mid 1988 George's house burned down and Mum did encourage Janet in her plan to pay for a replacement home for him. Thanks to Janet Frame's generosity, George lived his last year or so in the relative comfort of the new cottage his famous sister provided for him to live in.



* Screen clip from Jennifer Lawn, 'Redemption, Secrecy, and the Hermeneutic Frame in Scented Gardens for the Blind'(ARIEL July 1999):

From Silence to Voice


From Silence to Voice: The Rise of Maori Literature by Paolo Della Valle

I was interested to read in a review of this book in the Sunday Star-Times yesterday, that "Della Valle includes Janet Frame among those who - like later Maori writers - challenged the domination of their actual and fictional worlds by the western gods of rationalism, consumerism and progress (modernity)."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The last novel to be translated

WH Allen UK; Pegasus NZ (1968)

The Rainbirds (also known as Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room) is regarded as one of Janet Frame's lesser novels. It is the only one of the twelve Janet Frame novels published so far to have remained untranslated.


Until now, that is. I was delighted recently to confirm a deal with a Romanian publisher. It's a first translation for The Rainbirds and this will also be the first Romanian edition of Janet Frame's work.


In 2006 Elizabeth Smither reviewed the newly reissued double edition containing State of Siege and The Rainbirds (New Zealand Listener November 11-17 (2006):


"Magnificent Shadows: Rediscovering Janet Frame: her lyricism, her brilliant images, her unflinching and loving view of New Zealand"


Vintage, Random House NZ (2006)

"...the Frame of the three-volume autobiography is the icing on the cake and underneath lies the great and accurate, clear, unflinching but loving view of New Zealand."


The Rainbirds was published in hardback by Pegasus New Zealand and WH Allen (UK) in 1968, and in the USA it was released by George Braziller (with the title Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room): in hardback in 1969, and in paperback in 1994.





George Braziller USA (1969;1994)

The Rainbirds has attracted some scholarly attention, for instance:
(Jan Cronin, 2005).

Gina Mercer, in her monograph Janet Frame: Subversive Fictions (1994) said of The Rainbirds:

"Frame set about creating a witty and scathing portrait of Dunedin's culture in the 1960s. It is sharp and dark and humorously unkind, as it depicts the dearth of spiritual and emotional resonance in the suburban populace, along with their catatonic denial of death." (p.124)

The Rainbirds is one of my personal favourites of Janet's works. She exposes the dark heart of human nature and the vicious "tall poppy" streak of New Zealanders, in a very funny way; it's not surprising that some early reviewers felt "got at" - such as Patrick Evans, whose excoriating criticism of the novel was ridiculed 20 years later in the Gina Mercer volume for having "missed the point".

I think The Rainbirds has an excellent plot and have always imagined it would make a superb movie.

I was interviewed by journalist Tess Brosnan for Dunedin's Channel 9 on Friday, and told her about this latest translation deal.

In the clip I talk about the wonderful descriptions in The Rainbirds, of the weather and landscape of Dunedin and its Otago Peninsula.

I don't mention the stringent social satire that probably didn't endear the novel to Dunedin readers in the 1960s!








Friday, December 17, 2010

Edging through the alphabets

The first translations of Janet Frame's work were into the German language, beginning in 1961.


The first Frame titles to be translated were Owls Do Cry, The Lagoon and The Edge of the Alphabet:

Wenn Eulen Schreien, Nannen, Hamburg 1961

Die Lagune, Nannen, Hamburg 1962

Am Rande des Alphabets Nannen, Hamburg, 1963

Faces in the Water was also translated. Schimmen in Het Water was published in 1963 by Dutch publisher Van Ditmar, Amsterdam.

There were also early Italian and Spanish translations.



When Janet Frame published her bestselling autobiographical trilogy in the mid 1980s, translations of her work again spiked, and her fame grew even more after she won the Commonwealth Literary Prize in the late 1980s.

Then in the 1990s Jane Campion's film adaptation of Janet Frame's autobiography brought her life and work to the attention of a wider audience, outside the usual boundaries of literary fiction.

The number of foreign languages Janet Frame has been translated into continues to grow.

Recently, deals have been agreed for Romania and Russia.

Here is the list so far:

Brazilian Portuguese

Czech

Chinese

Danish

Dutch

Finnish

French

German

Hebrew

Hungarian

Italian

Japanese

Korean

Norwegian

Mexican Spanish

Polish

Portuguese

Romanian

Russian

Slovenian

Spanish

Swedish

Turkish


Janet Frame's London


Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis
by John McLeod (Routledge 2004)

Here's a fascinating study of literary portraits of London. Chapter 2 includes an analysis of some of Janet Frame's writings about London as she dreamed it and as she encountered it:

"London, England: V.S. Naipaul, Doris Lessing and Janet Frame"

This book is a refreshing example of the kind of academic research that respects the agency of authors and the integrity of their work.

"For Frame, the writer must reach beyond a subservience to any specific location - England or New Zealand - in order to arrive at am imaginative space which permits 'primary dialogue' unfettered from the obligations of either place or cultural tradition. In depicting London she attempts to write through the cultural and colonial authority of England in order to reach a new, enabling threshold at the edge of received vision, figured elsewhere as the 'Mirror City'."

"I feel enriched for having read her work"

Australian writer, reviewer and LITERARY MINDED blogger Angela Meyer has given a warm recommendation for Janet Frame's short stories, in a contribution to "The Best Short Stories and Collections of 2010" on THE GUM WALL.

"Frame makes me want to simultaneously give up writing and rush to my computer to try to do better and better" ~ Angela Meyer

"And every sentence in Frame's work is a revelation - description, events, thought and dialogue flowing freely into one another in a perfect rhythm. Tense and POV shifts are seamless. I feel enriched for having read her work."

More praise for the Selected Stories

"This collection of stories reveals Frame to be, chiefly, one of the great authors of recent times; an incredibly imaginative storyteller whose play with language and description is fuelled by her insight into the nature of the world."

~ Australian Sun Herald
Sunday 24 October 2010

The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Short Stories by Janet Frame

(Vintage Australia 2010; Virago UK 2010)

The reviewer also takes a swipe at those who speculate about Janet Frame's personal life:

"There is much to love about this collection and it would be a shame for Frame's talent to get lost under the mythology..."

This collection of stories was published in 2009 in the USA as PRIZES: SELECTED STORIES and the paperback edition of PRIZES has just been released this December 2010.


Still available from Vintage (Random House NZ) as PRIZES: Selected Short Stories (2009).


Monday, December 13, 2010

A favourite book


At the end of every year, Janet Frame had a particular habit of reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys. It was one of the ways she liked to mark a New Year. For herself, she liked the opportunity to make a fresh start, and to plan her work and travel for the next year. She loved to buy new diaries and journals and calendars, to make plans and timetables, and she also liked to give calendars and journals and diaries away as Christmas gifts.

Janet used to quite often quote typical Pepys expressions, things like "thence to parliament", "then to the office", "and so to bed", and she liked to tell some of his stories and to discuss his life and his viewpoints.

I just thought of all this because I just came across a website that lets you read an entry from Samuel Pepys Diary every day (there is also a twitter account).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reading Janet Frame

Storms Will Tell Bloodaxe (UK and USA)
contains The Goose Bath and a selection from The Pocket Mirror


Here is a link to a poem called "Reading Janet Frame" written by New Zealand poet and anthologist Harvey McQueen and posted on his blog stoatspring.

The list of poems about Janet Frame just gets longer and longer. So many other poets have been inspired by her triumphant life and by her inimitable and exceptional writing. I guess that someone one day will set about compiling an anthology of them!

Perhaps among the earliest poems written about Frame were written for her by a friend in London, poet Jon Silkin. Silkin was the boyfriend of a nurse at the Maudsley Institute where Frame spent some time under investigation, until she was famously freed from the Dunedin Hospital misdiagnosis that had dogged her until then.

Janet Frame spent several years in psychiatric wards when she was in her twenties. (The cycle was only broken when the mistaken diagnosis was recognised by the London medical team). During the years that she was in and out of hospitals, however, Frame made the best of her experiences and developed many friendships with staff as well as with the other patients. One of her relationships with a staff member was with Jon Silkin's girlfriend.

Jon Silkin visited New Zealand many years later and Janet Frame used to tell her own amusing anecdote about how when he was being entertained by the glitterati associated with Auckland University, he asked for the whereabouts of Janet Frame as he wanted to catch up with her after all those years.

Janet was well aware of the mythmaking response such a request would elicit, something like: Oh heavens, nobody sees her, she's a recluse don't you know.

"A prophet isn't known in their own country" was never more aptly applied to a misunderstood contemporary celebrity than to Janet Frame, who continues to be shamefully misrepresented by her own country's patriarchalist institutions to this very day.

If you want to see one example of an inaccurate and patronisingly misogynistic portrayal of Frame, see the freshly erected biographical essay commissioned by New Zealand's Ministry of Culture and Heritage for the official NZ online "encyclopedia" Te Ara. Frame is glossed as "schoolteacher, writer" and the infelicities don't by any means stop there.

The essay was constructed by Frame's nemesis, school teacher and lecturer Patrick Evans. One may as well have asked Lex Luthor to write a bio of Superman. The fact that Evans has recently, with dubious ethics, published a novel inventing a completely non-historically accurate Frame but exploiting her real name and reputation to publicise his book, means that the timing of his essay serves as no more than a crass blurb for the novel.

Yes I have protested at the clear conflict of interest, and I have criticised the masculinist bias of the essay which also has a heavy psychological bias, ignoring much of Frame's successful career in favour of an obsessive focus on her family; it portrays the independent and highly achieving Frame as largely dependant on a series of so-called male "mentors" that the essayist seems to be more interested in, actually. (International Frame scholars have already pointed out this bizarre fixation of 'masculinist' NZ commentators, on Frame's male friendships to the exclusion of her other vital relationships, and in fact, to the detriment of a recognition of her stubborn independence and fierce agency.)

When I complained about the poor quality of the bio, I was accused of "attempting to censor reliable history", although one or two of my corrections (including to Frame's birth date!) were taken in.

We'll see who history mocks. Probably we don't need to wait long before somebody outside New Zealand reads the Te Ara bio and raises an eyebrow at the condescension, and the sexism, of the impenetrable "official narrative" about Frame. There are plenty of remaining errors that I couldn't be bothered pointing out.

But I digress. Shall we go back to the academically-imposed blocks put in the way of Jon Silkin attempting to track down an old friend? This was typical. A few of the illustrious overseas visitors, famously, have retorted to this kind of self-important gate-keeping of the NZ literary gods and goddesses, "Don't you people ever read Janet Frame?" when they hear what to their ears is clearly provincial scuttlebutt.

Fortunately Silkin didn't take the nonsense either, and insisted that he had known Janet in London and was quite sure she'd be happy to see him again (as she indeed was). Janet reported that they had a lovely reunion at her home in Whangaparaoa. It turned out that her whereabouts were known after all.

I noted recently that Harvey McQueen has recently published an anthology of his 100 favourite New Zealand poems, titled These I Have Loved, and that he has included several poems by Janet Frame, from The Pocket Mirror (1967) and The Goose Bath (2006).

Harvey McQueen would likely know about the ingrained derogatory attitude towards Janet Frame and her work that was - and it seems, is - to be found within certain circles in New Zealand. His introduction retells how when he included Frame's poetry in an earlier landmark anthology, apparently some academic or other was quite snide about Frame having been added merely to make up the numbers of the female variety. McQueen protested that this was not so, and one would imagine that a little time has vindicated his stance. Certainly as I've pointed out before, the consistently healthy sales figures do indicate that despite what Mr Evans seems to think, an awful lot of people have been, and are, reading Janet Frame.


Current NZ edition of The Pocket Mirror is found in Stories and Poems (Vintage NZ)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Poems in the Waiting Room


Poems in the Waiting Room is a voluntary organisation producing free handouts of poetry for people to read while they are waiting to see the doctor.
The movement started in the UK. Read the link to find out more of the history:


The summer issue of the Dunedin/Otago Poems in the Waiting Room has arrived in the world.

Must get in touch with the organisers and offer them another Janet Frame poem for a future issue. They included Frame's "The Icicles" in the winter issue of 2009.

The poems on the brochures are by a mix of old and new poets, well-known and emerging, local and international. All poems are carefully chosen for those sometimes tense uncomfortable waiting times.

ABC Doco on Janet Frame

JANET FRAME AND THE MARGIN

This documentary on Janet Frame was broadcast this week on Australia's
ABC Hindsight programme,
and is currently available for download.

The programme presents a wide variety of views of Frame -
I know that Janet Frame herself was sometimes infuriated
by the exaggerated characterisation
of her as "on the margin" -
but there should be something there to interest a fan.

The interviews were done some time ago for a Radio France documentary and have apparently been re-edited for English language consumption.
In fact the re-edit seems to be a classic example of the ability of the media
to selectively edit interviews to suit any agenda.

Baykuşlar Öterken: Turkish Owls Do Cry


Turkish publisher YAPI KREDI has just published their translation of Janet Frame's first novel OWLS DO CRY (1957).

To follow will be their translation of Janet Frame's most recently published novel, TOWARDS ANOTHER SUMMER (2007).

French text book on THE LAGOON




By Claire Bazin and Alice Braun

Presses Universitaires de France 2010

This book on The Lagoon is one of a series of studies of classics of English literature that are set texts for study and examination in France. Subjects of other recent monographs include Far from the Madding Crowd, Lolita, Emily Dickinson's poems, King Lear and Jane Eyre.

Words and Music



I recently attended a very enjoyable launch party in Dunedin for this biography of composer Gillian Whitehead, written by Noel Sanders and published by Steele Roberts.



In 1972 Gillian collaborated with Janet Frame to produce Three Songs of Janet Frame for soprano and chamber orchestra. The three poems Gillian used for the piece ('The Clock Tower', 'Question' and 'The Sun Speaks at Perihelion') were taken from Frame's The Pocket Mirror (1967).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lottie's Anniversary

Janet Frame's parents Lottie & George Frame

Janet Frame's mother Lottie Frame (nee Lottie Godfrey) died 55 years ago today, on the 2nd of December 1955.

Grandma had grown up in Picton and as a girl she had been a domestic servant for Katherine Mansfield's grandmother Mary Beauchamp. Katherine's family came over from Wellington for summer holidays. Lottie was four years younger than Katherine, and always spoke highly of her and the rest of the family.

I never met my grandmother. The last time my mother saw her, was during a visit to Willowglen at Oamaru, and I was still in utero.

But Grandma Lottie, or "Mother" as Mum and Janet called her, was always a big part of my life. Her stories and her poems and her wise sayings were told and retold, and I felt that I knew her.

And every year Janet and Mum would say, on December the 2nd, "Today is the day Mother died."

When her mother died, Janet Frame was at that time living in Takapuna, boarding with her friend the New Zealand author Frank Sargeson. She lived in Frank's army hut during the week, where she could work in peace, and came to stay with my family in nearby Northcote every weekend.

Some extraordinary tales are told about the 15 months Janet spent at Frank's, by various "witnesses", and over time the anecdotes have been embellished and polished and exaggerated.

As it may come out one day, later rather than sooner, because his masculinist disciples are desperately attempting to hide this truth, Frank Sargeson was a terrible liar and a hysterical anxious man, given to panics and imaginings, and he liked to dramatise his relationship with Janet. His tendency to envy, and to malicious gossip, set the scene for a very patronising and false view of Frame, that endures to this day.

One attitude that re-emerged recently was that Frame was given to "furtively writing" in her shed. This act of creative discipline seemed to enrage the predominantly male onlookers apparently obsessively observing every nuance of her behaviour, and pathologising anything they disapproved of.

I sometimes wonder, when I hear these often misogynist anecdotes about Frame "hiding away", whether the Sargeson acolytes even knew that Frame didn't stay in the shed over the weekends. Perhaps they imagined her locked away in the hut, as they walked around it loudly whispering, wondering how any girl could resist their boyish charms. What was wrong with her, that she should hide away like a hermit when she should - if she were normal - emerge to worship at the altar of their male wit.

But perhaps she wasn't even there!

Another thing the usually demeaning stories never mention, is the fact that Janet Frame's mother died during the time she stayed with Frank.

There's no room on their inhuman pedestal for a grieving, human Janet Frame.

I hope my words do something to challenge the hardened official discourse.

And speaking of hardened official discourses about Janet Frame promoted by the institutional patriarchy, here is my opinion of a document which has emerged from the hallowed ivory towers of academia: it is called Gifted ( but I prefer to know it by the nick-name Ripped Off) and it is the 'novel' published earlier this year by one Professor Evans:

It's a Rip Off
There's currently a despicable travesty of Janet Frame finding favour with New Zealand's chattering classes. It's a pseudo academic "fan fiction"* version of her, cunningly publicised, and unethically claiming to offer insights into the real Janet Frame.

So many facts are changed, but the bloodless inhuman Frame that emerges amuses the ignorant crowd.

And what facts are changed?

The fictional Frame appears out of nowhere and lands on Frank's doorstep.

The real Frame was sought out by Frank because of her fame and her reputation for brilliance. He wanted to have a piece of her and add her to his string of disciples.

The fictional Frame hasn't published yet.

The real Frame had won the national Fiction prize years beforehand for her book of stories, and was publishing frequently in major magazines, had read a story on the radio, and had already gathered a reputation as being one of the "best since Mansfield".

The fictional Janet comes out of nowhere, the real Janet had already established important connections and friendships with literary figures.

The fictional Frame is an inhuman cypher who lives in a fantasy realm on the other side of language and only knows the real world through words.

The real Frame had done substantial time working as a house maid and as a nurse aid to elderly people, and was a human being full of pity and compassion.

She grieved, as one does, when her mother died. Who knows what 'disturbance' that grief was interpreted as.

The fictional Frame is a cartoon character, a puppet. A solitary, and socially inept.

The real Frame was shy at first, and traumatised by the abuses recently suffered, but once she realised she was in company she could trust, she was a voluble, articulate, witty and effervescent companion, who participated fully in the active social life surrounding Sargeson.

One can see why all these facts have been changed, because the fantasy inhuman Frame doesn't make sense if the facts of the real Frame are acknowledged.

The elderly professor who wrote the novel wants his readers to think his puppet Frame is evasive and odd and ethereal, a riddling mystery, austere, out of touch, so he invents the characteristics that will make her seem so.

None of the gross distortions of historical fact have been identified by any of the reviews of the novel. I haven't even seen any debate or discussion of the questionable ethics of reinventing facts about someone who died so recently.

If this were taken as pure fiction, it wouldn't be so bad, but there is a deliberate attempt to blur the reception. The naive well-meaning reader seems to be confusing the Frame of the novel for the real one. Certainly every single review I have seen, has made this mistake of assuming that there can be any insight into the real Frame offered by a novel written about her by someone who has had to represent her even as hiding the fact of having been a patient in a mental hospital.

All reviews have been accompanied by photographs of the real star - Frame herself. There is usually no photo of the author of the novel.

This fictional characterisation of Janet Frame as dishonest about having been recently released from hospital is particularly toxic and unfair, as she was always frank and forthcoming about her experiences in life, with an astonishing lack of self pity considering the abuses she was subjected to.

This deliberate sabotage of the real Janet Frame's known openness and integrity should signal to any knowledgeable reader that a "number is being done" on her, and perhaps they should enquire into the author's motives for wanting to represent Janet Frame as a liar, and as untrustworthy.

Instead, reception seems to have been managed by a controlling discourse suggesting that the fan fic is 'admiring' and 'fond'. Publicity has openly ridden on the back of the great regard Frame is held in, and it has cynically exploited some of the more inane myths about her that are popularly embraced.

The fan fic professor's academic theories have been discredited and discarded by contemporary Frame scholars; from the first his speculative biographical theories were rejected by Frame herself, who despised him for his stalkerish intrusiveness into her private life, and his insulting refusal to accept her word on anything to do with her own life, including his insistence, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, that Frame was peddling a "myth of the misdiagnosis".

So he has had to resort to using fiction to achieve his goal of obliterating Frame's authentically expressed life story and replacing it with his speculations and imaginations. With a foundation of lies and distortions in order to shore it up.

* fan fic (short for fan fiction) is the genre produced when an amateur writer, who is obsessed with fictional characters, actors, or other celebrities, writes his or her own invented scenarios for the characters or the celebrities to act out. The plots often involve sexual fantasies about the objects of the fan's obsession. Fan fic can be "slash fiction" (inventing and describing homosexual acts - often in salacious detail - between fictional characters or celebrities) or het (heterosexual). It's apparently rare for fan fic writers not to indulge their sexual fantasies about the objects of their admiration.

Fan fic is widely regarded as a fairly base form of literature, and these prose exercises are seldom published by any reputable publisher, but are circulated amongst an in group, or available in digital format and online. There are of course ethical issues to do with copyright appropriation and also many find distasteful the crass intrusion of some of the stories into the privacy of living or recently deceased celebrities.

For Frame to have been targeted by a fan fic writer who is publicly passing off his novel, in an online interview, as "Janet Frame's last novel" and who is claiming that he "channeled Janet" in writing it, is frankly, sickening, not to mention delusional. The fact that this book found an publisher opportunistic enough to overlook the moral issues, is not surprising considering Frame's enormous fame and selling power, which guarantees that the books will have a curiosity value based on her reputation alone.

"Follow the money."

Take away the name of "Janet Frame" and would anyone be interested at all in a rather weak and turgidly written pseudo academic wank? I doubt it.

Titillate the audience with the promise of tittle tattle about one of New Zealand's greatest achievers and best-loved iconic figures, and throw in some promise of gay sex for good measure, and have a fictionalised stand in for Karl Stead leeringly ready and willing to slip the unsuspecting Janet "a sausage" (wink wink) and you might even hit the NZ "bestseller" charts, as Frame always did.