Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Give Life Give Blood

We know that when we give blood, we give life, but I don't think it's as widely known that donated blood also gives quality of life, and extends life for people like Janet Frame, who had leukemia. She received blood transfusions for the last six months of her life, more frequently at the end.

She always used to dream and wonder about the kind people whose blood kept her feeling alive and gave her some strength and energy when her own blood was failing.

I post this photograph in the hope it inspires somebody to give this precious gift.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Janet Frame & Katherine Mansfield

Here's another book of the great works and the great writers!

This one, 501 Great Writers (Penguin 2008) is glossed as:


This volume is itself a giant, and makes for some excellent browsing.

It is to be hoped that these books of lists of literary greats will not just stimulate debate, but that they will also encourage reading of the great writers and works they mention (and those they don't), rather than just serve as cheat-sheets.

There are just two New Zealand writers among the 501: Janet Frame and Katherine Mansfield.

Ever since Janet Frame came along, it has been harder and harder to justify the previous claim that Katherine Mansfield was "New Zealand's greatest writer". And conversely, because of Mansfield's reputation, many critics find themselves unwilling to claim the top spot for Frame.

The Mansfield entry in 501 Great Writers notes the competition without opting for a clear winner:

"Katherine Mansfield is acclaimed as one of English literature's finest short story writers and is rivaled only by novelist Janet Frame as New Zealand's greatest writer."

It's interesting that Mansfield and Frame both made their international reputations while living as expatriates. (Mansfield never returned to New Zealand, but Frame did.)

Dorothy Porter on The Goose Bath

Australian poet Dorothy Porter died two weeks ago in Melbourne.

I've been told that the book she was reading, and rereading at the end, was her heavily annotated Australian edition of Janet Frame's The Goose Bath.

A few days after Dorothy Porter died her short review of The Goose Bath appeared in the Melbourne Age (December 13 2008). Apparently Porter, herself an exponent of the verse novel, had not been a fan of Frame's novels, but was awestruck by her poetry. She said:

"I am engrossed in her new and posthumous collection of poetry, The Goose Bath (Wilkins Farago). Frame kept many of these poems unpublished and private during her lifetime, and some of the poems can eerily make the reader feel a trespasser. Yet the poems are numinous and mostly memorable. The book itself is beautifully presented. A pleasure to hold and read."

Come All Ye Maidens

Clare Curran and Deputy PM Michael Cullen campaigning at Hillside Railway workshops South Dunedin, October 2008

Janet Frame's name came up at the New Zealand House of Parliament last week.

The new Labour MP for the Dunedin South electorate delivered her maiden speech in Parliament on December 16th. A first speech to parliament traditionally covers the new Member's personal journey into politics and outlines what they hope to achieve in their future career. Clare Curran also described and paid tribute to the electorate she now represents, including reference to some of the great New Zealanders that came from there. She said:

"Dunedin, particularly South Dunedin, can claim to have nurtured many of our most creative and talented people. Janet Frame, James K Baxter both hailed from Dunedin South along with a myriad of other writers, painters, poets, sportspeople and musicians."

Dunedin South includes the suburb of South Dunedin where Janet Frame's family was living when she was born. Her father was a railwayman and Janet never lost the sense of her origins in the working classes, and she never lost her love for the railways either.

At the end of her life, after all her early trauma, her travels and travails, and all her triumphs, she came back to live in South Dunedin just a few streets away from where her parents had lived when she was born.

Before being thrown out of office in the November 2008 election, New Zealand's Labour-led Government managed to carry out Janet Frame's dying wish that New Zealand would "buy back the railways".

No place like Holmes

NZ broadcaster Paul Holmes is retiring, and the press is full of reminiscences of his eventful life lived in the public eye (and ear) in NZ.

One such 'signing off from the airwaves' interview, in yesterday's Sunday Star-Times, refers to a brief meeting between Paul Holmes and Janet Frame.

He'd been in Dunedin promoting his one-off easy-listening CD and she approached him to sign a copy, using the pretext that she was buying it not for herself, but for her niece.

I still have the Paul Homes CD she used as the excuse to meet him, that he kindly signed "For Pamela, with love, Paul". The CD did not kick off a singing career, but it sold well I think.

One of the things that Paul and Janet had in common was they'd both very publicly survived a brush with cancer (she'd had ovarian cancer in the early 1990s and "beaten" it, and he'd been successfully treated for prostate cancer).

I wasn't at the meeting, which took place at the Meridian Mall in Dunedin, but I met Janet and the friend she was with later for coffee at the Meridian food court (we could still see Paul Holmes at his signing table on the other side of the mall), and heard there'd been a warm mutually flummoxed conversation, as can occur when celebrities collide, and a photo taken, and I was presented with my CD!

The Star-Times interviewer spotted the photo:

"Among the photographs on the sideboard (Kiri Te Kanawa, Bill Clinton, family, family, family) is a picture of a dark-suited Holmes with an old woman with wild white hair. Janet Frame approached the broadcaster at a CD signing session in Dunedin. He says she told him they were both survivors."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One thousand and one great books

The second edition of the popular 1001 books you must read before you die has been released.

The list of 1001 books appears all around the internet and many readers challenge themselves to catch up with some of the great classics of world literature listed there.

Janet Frame's FACES IN THE WATER featured on the list in the first edition, and it's not surprising to see this powerful and influential novel listed again in the second edition.
Here are a couple of highlights from the 1001 Books article on FACES IN THE WATER:

'Faces in the Water is one of the most powerful descriptions of mental illness ever written. Although a work of fiction, the novel is informed by Janet Frame's own experience as a patient (wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia) in a New Zealand mental asylum.'

'The book is a biting critique of the gross power differential between medical "professional" and patient. While the skillful way in which the novel makes this point is enough to make it memorable, the prose's striking quality elevates it to a truly great novel. Istina's thoughts and narrative descriptions combine an accomplished lyricism with the fractured digressions symptomatic of psychological trauma.'

The current Random House New Zealand edition, paired with another early Frame novel

The current Australian edition, from Vintage Australia.

A new edition of Faces in the Water is soon to be released by Virago in the UK.
Novelist Hilary Mantel has written an exquisitely beautiful and perceptive introduction for this volume that really must not be missed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Name Change

Today the name of this blog changes from SLIGHTLY FRAMOUS to JANET ON THE PLANET.

Why? Because the former is perhaps a little too subtle, and has been leading to some misinterpretations.

The new name is a name Janet used to sign herself, not to everybody she corresponded with I guess, but she used it when she wrote to me, and the copy above is taken from a fax she sent once.

I had been saving the expression 'Janet on the Planet' in case I ever got around to writing a memoir about my life with (and without) Janet Frame.

Just the other day while visiting Wellington, I was spending some time with my chum Roger Steele of Steele Roberts publishing, and he was the latest in a long line of people to ask whether I was working on a memoir.

No, I said, but I have got a blog.

I realised then that this blog is probably as close as I'll get in the meantime, to making a first pass at a memoir, so why not give it a name I like better, and one that Janet herself invented.

Paying it Forward

Another New Zealand writer to benefit from Janet Frame's legacy is Emma Neale, poet and novelist of Dunedin. Emma has recently been awarded the inaugural NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award. This biannual award was funded by the Janet Frame Literary Trust and Emma will receive a $3000 grant with which she intends to purchase some much needed computer equipment.

Here's a link to some of Emma's books and to her profile on the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre.

Perkins picks TAS

This week's New Zealand Listener provides the usual list - ubiquitous at this festively consumer season - of best books of the year. Janet Frame's posthumous novel Towards Another Summer is not of course eligible for the 2008 line up, having been first published in this country last year, in 20o7.

However many New Zealand literary bright lights were also asked to provide a list of the best books they actually read in 2008, not necessarily that were published this year. One of these lists featured the great classic MOBY-DICK read for the first time by that commentator, and not surprisingly the conclusion was that "if this book had been published in 2008, it would have been hailed as astonishingly modern".

Most definitely - because the greatest works of literature remain always fresh, and they don't date, and they don't fade away. (And sometimes, as in the case of Moby-Dick, it takes a little while for their worth to be recognised by the list-makers!)

So I was delighted to see that one of the other lists in the LISTENER highlighted the Janet Frame novel which has been received so well all around the world, having been published separately in Australia as well as in New Zealand, and by VIRAGO in the UK and Canada, and that will be published in the USA next year by Counterpoint. Translation rights are also selling steadily (12 languages so far, including most recently Turkish, Finnish, and Brazilian Portuguese). It's a deceptively simple and accessible but beautifully written and piercing book that is muscling its way in amongst the powerful canon of Janet Frame's other work and demanding a place as one of the best-loved.

NZ author and recently returned expatriate Emily Perkins chose TAS as one of her favourites of the year's reading.

Emily says: "I loved Janet Frame's posthumously published novel Towards Another Summer (Vintage 2007). There can be the chilly whiff of the open grave about work brought to the public by literary executors, but this book dispels any creeping voyeurism the reader might feel. It's a very funny story about homesickness and heartache, full of doom and dread, written in Frame's exquisite new-made language."
Earlier this year I heard Emily Perkins praising Towards Another Summer in an interview with the BBC. She was speaking live from Christchurch, and the occasion was the much heralded UK launch of the Virago hardback copy of Towards Another Summer, which since July has already had two reprints and the paperback edition has been set in production for release in 2009.
It's looking pretty clear that like Moby Dick, Towards Another Summer will be around for a very long time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nurturing a New Generation

Warmest congratulations to Jo Randerson of Wellington, for being awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand New Generation Award for 2008, worth $25,000.

The multi-talented Jo Randerson is a poet, author, comedian, actor, director and playwright with seemingly boundless energy and creativity.

Jo has also been awarded the 2008-9 New Zealand Society of Authors Foxton Fellowship. The recipient of this fellowship is entitled to stay for a month at a writer's retreat house in Foxton owned by Peter and Dianne Beatson. The Beatsons also provide a stipend to the lucky author, so it's not surprising that from next year the fellowship will be renamed "The NZSA Beatsons Fellowship".

Jo was a Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 2001 and attended the 50th anniversary celebrations held in Dunedin in October. She chaired a deeply moving tribute session to all the deceased Burns Fellows, in which their words and their memory came alive, causing many tears especially as 2008 has seen the loss of three dearly loved former Fellows who had all lived in Dunedin: Hone Tuwhare, Ruth Dallas and Dianne Pettis.

The memorial hour was called "Bright in Memory" and Jo gave an "introductory peroration" in which she listed and considered the treasury of New Zealand's departed literary heroes. Then she and her fellow panellists each gave an individual tribute to one fellow, by speaking about and reading from that author's work. Hone Tuwhare was commemorated by Cilla McQueen, James K Baxter by Brian Turner, Ruth Dallas by Bernadette Hall, and Dianne Pettis by Christine Johnston.

And Jo Randerson gave the tribute to Janet Frame. Jo told us that Janet Frame was the first writer that ever made her "shudder". Jo read out Janet Frame's marvellous fable "Two Sheep".

Janet Frame herself had also once chosen to read that same story out during her session at an author's festival, held in Toronto in 1984. While at the week-long festival Janet Frame also attended every one of the major sessions given by the other special guests (who included Margaret Attwood, Yevgeny Yevtuschenko, Nadine Gordimer and VS Naipaul).

And so the new generations are nourished by the words and the example of the great writers of the past who never really leave us, as their words stay as fresh and powerful on the page and in the ear, as the day they were written.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dunedin Public Library

Dunedin Public Library is 100 years old today. To mark the milestone, a Centennial History called Freedom to Read has been released. This book includes reproductions of both sides of the application card Janet Frame filled out on the 24th of May 1954, when she had just secured a live-in job at the Grand Hotel Dunedin.

While Janet Frame was living at the Grand Hotel, she wrote stories and poems, including the story GORSE IS NOT PEOPLE first published this year in the NEW YORKER.

The Grand Hotel is now The Southern Cross Hotel, housing the Dunedin Casino. The staff lived in small rooms on the top floor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A bro'Town at my Table

A wonderful surprise for me today - in the mail I received a gift box containing the 4-disk set of DVDs of all four bro'Town hit series.

The New Zealand TV phenomenon bro'Town has often been called "The Simpsons of the South Pacific".

It's a uniquely Kiwi satirical animated show put together by some of NZ's best comedy talent. It is at times edgily non-PC, but always lovably so, and full of local references. Among the in-jokes are lots of allusions to the milestones of New Zealand literary and movie culture.

The guys at bro'Town read my blog post A Catch Phrase on My Table and noticed that I cited their use of the new language pattern that has grown out of the iconic status of An Angel at My Table. The first four series of bro'Town include episodes called "A Maori at My table", "A Chicken Roll at My Table" and "An Alien at My Table".

They were delighted - so much so they sent me the DVDs to enjoy, and also a framed poster of the cover art of 'A Maori at My Table" to add to my collection of examples of the catch phrase. It's already up on the wall over the back of the TV set.

Sweet as!

* sweet as = New Zealand idiom meaning "that's fine"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tribute to Helen Clark

Dear Helen Clark,

I want to thank you for your inspired advocacy for the arts community in New Zealand, and in particular I want to acknowledge your personal support for Janet Frame over the years. I remember how you came out of your way to Dunedin for the launch of Michael King's Frame biography, obviously enjoying the occasion with Janet and Michael and the rest of the gathering. Overseas guests couldn't believe how sociable and approachable - and knowledgeable about the arts - our PM was!

Again, at the opening of the John Money Wing at Gore, I'll never forget how you sat in the sun with John and Janet and chatted and joked like an old friend.
And Janet was so proud when you went to Oamaru for the opening of 56 Eden Street, cutting the typewriter ribbon at the door and planting a cabbage tree in the garden of the house where during her childhood the pride of place went to the portrait of Michael Joseph Savage, one of the other great NZ Prime Ministers.
It meant such a lot to Janet that you awarded her one of the inaugural Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement. At the end of her life she was gratified to be honoured in such a way.

And our family was comforted by your insistence on a State Memorial Service and by the fact that you made the effort to attend and to speak in praise of Janet Frame's contribution to NZ 's cultural life.

Writers have traditionally had to scramble for the crumbs of remuneration and recognition; under your leadership both their mana and their material reward grew. You'll be missed, but I'm confident that whatever you turn your hand to next will give you a chance to keep making the world a better place.

Pamela Gordon - Chair, Janet Frame Literary Trust

Posted on Sunday 23 November to a tribute page for Helen Clark, departing New Zealand Prime Minister, and Minister for Arts & Culture. The tributes have been solicited by
The Big Idea (which is an online community for people working in the creative arts in New Zealand).
Yours truly pushing the wheelchair while Mum (Janet Frame's sister June Gordon) takes Prime Minister Helen Clark on a tour of 56 Eden Street, November 2003.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Happy Prince

This week's Saturday Poem in the Guardian (22 November 2008) is "The Happy Prince" by Janet Frame. I love this poem, and it's proving to be a favourite for editors as well.

The poem appears in the anthology From Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English (eds Eva Salzman and Amy Wack) to be released later this week by Welsh literary publisher Seren.

This is an anthology which "showcases the range, craft, intelligence and skill of women’s poetry over the last century".

"Arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life, this anthology aims to be a touchstone of women’s thoughts and experiences; to be entertaining and relevant as well as inclusive and representative of some of the best poetry published now."

The blurb on the Seren website asks the obvious question: "In these ‘Post-Feminist’ times, is there a need for such a book? Is the literary establishment still as dominated by men as it once was? Who gets to decide the canon?" Apparently there's a lively introduction to the book, making the case for a woman-only collection. I look forward to reading it.

The poem "The Happy Prince" was first published in the New Zealand Listener on 28th August 2004, and later appeared in the posthumous collection The Goose Bath. In the UK, The Goose Bath has been published along with a selection from The Pocket Mirror, in the volume Storms Will Tell published by Bloodaxe Books in January 2008.

Random House NZ Editions

With the publication of PRIZES: Selected Short Stories next February, Random House New Zealand will then have all Janet Frame's published work back in print in beautiful new editions.

The work on the editing of PRIZES is almost over. This will give me some time over the next few weeks to post some comments on each of the published volumes, one by one.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Photo of the front bedroom at 56 Eden Street Oamaru,
taken from outside the house,
the window reflecting the flower garden and houses on the hill across the street.

I beg your pardon

I never promised you a rose garden.

I've been told that there is a post card from Janet Frame for sale on the auction site Trade Me.

The front picture is of a rose garden near Levin.

I was approached and asked to "authenticate" the postcard, but of course I'm no more able to vouch for its authenticity than anyone else. It was written to a stranger, nobody I have ever heard of, and signed with the formal writing name "Janet Frame" - a clear hint that if it is genuine, Janet was just generously giving an autograph to someone whose fan letters had moved her in some way.

She did that kind of thing. She couldn't reply to all her fan mail, but sometimes she did reach out to someone who had touched her in some way.

"Many thanks for your perceptive letters" is written on the card, all in a style and presentation that does look very like Janet's.

I know she favoured that particular Levin postcard, because I received at least one of the same model from her myself. In fact every time she found a new rose garden postcard she sent it to me. And when she found a postcard she liked she bought a stack of them, so it's possible lots of other people got rose garden postcards too!

Janet often used to sing the song "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden". I think I've already mentioned in an earlier post that the first time she sent me a post card of a rose garden, she had written on the back "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden!"

That was in 1972 when I was working part-time at the Auckland University Library, and I was very embarrassed by the fact that Janet had addressed the postcard to me care of the Library. Just a humble shelver getting mail at the Library! I was very shy, and was mortified that one of the Librarians had to come looking for me up in the European languages section where I worked, to deliver the postcard. I was told quite sternly that it was inappropriate for a casual student worker to be receiving mail at the Library.

The message "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden" was very apt on that occasion, and over the years it became somewhat of a theme. As she used to gleefully warble:"Along with the sunshine, you gotta take a little rain sometime."

But the only person who could "authenticate" the Trade Me rose garden would be the late author herself, and possibly the recipient, who sadly seems to have also passed away (the card was found in an estate lot of books).

In any case the Frame Estate has a firm policy of discouraging any request for authentication of memorabilia that is destined for private sale. This is not our business or our duty at all. If an item doesn't have a clear provenance then we are not going to be able to speak with any authority anyway.

Apparently there are organisations in the USA that offer an autograph verification service for a fee, but they don't harass Estates for an imprimatur - they use digital recognition technology and ink diagnosis and so forth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Question from a translator

...it was in between the second and third parts of her novel 'in progress' that the weekend intruded itself; it stuck in the gullet of her novel; nothing could move out or in, her book was in danger of becoming 'a foster child of silence'.

Therefore she applied literary surgery to free her characters for their impelled dance or flight; she wrote the story of the weekend.

One of the translators currently working on the text of Towards Another Summer was able to spot a potential problem on the first page of the novel. In the passage above, the translator wanted to be reassured, did the word characters refer to the people in the novel, or the letters of the alphabet making up the text of the novel?

Now that's a very perceptive question from someone who obviously is very familiar with Janet Frame's themes!

And doesn't that query exemplify a very Framean characteristic?

I've always wondered how it is possible to translate a writer like Janet Frame, whose work is so redolent with layers of meaning. She often employs the multiple meanings of words and phrases simultaneously. And even if she didn't intend the ambiguity in this individual case, the force of her command of language makes her words seem to take independent life and start waging their own battles.

How can that kind of rich text ever be translated?

And yet I can read Jorge Luis Borges in English, and appreciate some of the complexity.

I'm really in awe of translators.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Other alphabets

With the advent of Towards Another Summer, that beautiful 'new' posthumously published novel by Janet Frame, that has won hearts all around the world, there has been a flurry of interest in foreign rights for this title, along with many of the backlist titles not currently spoken for.

So far the Frame Estate has had requests and offers for rights to Towards Another Summer in more than ten languages.

The first foreign edition of Frame's 12th novel will be the Spanish Hacia Otro Verano from Seix Barral. Seix Barral are also to publish a new edition of their translation of the autobiography omnibus.

Janet enjoyed and treasured the translations of her works - her author copies of different editions easily filled a whole room of her house. When she moved from Auckland back to Dunedin in the late 1990s, I heard one of the moving men, who had the job of putting the books on the shelves in the new house, ask that classic incredulous question that moving men everywhere ask of those of us who move from place to place bringing vast libraries along with us: "Have you read all these books?" Janet's answer was slightly different from the usual. "Actually," she said, "I wrote most of them!"

Obviously she couldn't read all the languages her books were translated into, but she used to like to give away her spare gratis copies as presents, whether the recipient of the gift could read the language or not.

It always seemed that the foreign covers were more intriguing too. In the past many of her English language covers had been quite dull, although there certainly were some remarkable ones as well. Or maybe it was those mysterious foreign titles that made the foreign editions seem so exciting.