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.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Janet Frame serial shortlisted for BBC Audio Drama Award

The finalists for the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2014 were announced earlier this month.

One of the finalists is the excellent adaptation by Anita Sullivan of Janet Frame's autobiography that was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last January.

Best Audio Drama (Series or Serial)

(Judges: Fergal Keane, Jane Thynne and Daniel Evans)

  • An Angel at My Table Written by Janet Frame, adapted by Anita Sullivan, produced by Karen Rose, Sweet Talk for Radio 4
  • The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles by Esther Wilson, produced by Pauline Harris, BBC Radio Drama Salford for Radio 4
  • Takes Two to Tandem by Lavinia Murray, produced by Sharon Sephton, BBC Radio Drama Salford for Radio 4
For more information about the awards, see the BBC press release.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held on Sunday 26 January 2014 in the Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House in central London, hosted by Lenny Henry and Tony Hall, BBC Director-General.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

You are now entering 2014

Happy New Year! 2014 is a year of some Frame milestones. On August the 28th of this year, it will be 90 years since Janet Frame was born in Dunedin in 1924.

And in just over a week from now, it will be the tenth anniversary of Janet Frame's death at Dunedin on January the 29th 2004 at the age of 79.

And here (photo, above) is something to celebrate: a draft of the beautiful cover art for the first new Janet Frame edition of this year, a Slovenian translation of a selection of Janet Frame's short stories to be given the title 'You are now entering the human heart and other stories'. Proposed publication date February 2014.