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

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














Mexican Spanish









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


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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Radio Broadcast


Composer Jenny McLeod's song cycle
Based on poems by Janet Frame

Will be broadcast for the first time.

Radio New Zealand Concert

8.00 pm today (Saturday 27 November)

Pianist Michael Houstoun accompanies tenor Keith Lewis.

Recorded at the world premiere,
NZ International Arts Festival
Wellington 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Congratulations to Tim Jones

announced today that

is the 2010 recipient of their biennial

Tim Jones is a poet and author of literary fiction as well as science fiction.
He plans to use the award to help him with the writing
of his third collection of short stories.

Tim Jones blogs at Books in the Trees.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Truth be Told

New Zealand publisher Craig Potton has recently published a history of the long-running newspaper New Zealand Truth.

The book is introduced by a Janet Frame quote from the first volume of her autobiography (by kind permission of the Janet Frame Literary Trust).

The quote begins "Though we were forbidden to read the Truth..." but then goes on to describe the typical forbidden glimpses of the sensational content that is associated with tabloid newspapers.

Interestingly, I recently read an excellent academic article ('The poetics of dissolution: The representation of Maori culture in Janet Frame's Fiction' by Cindy Gabrielle, in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Vol. 46, No. 2, May 2010, pp 209-220) which also quoted Janet Frame on the subject of Truth.

This quote was from the short story 'The Lagoon' (from the collection of the same name), in which the protagonist's aunt utters the line:

"I prefer Dostoevsky to Truth."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Summer Season at the Janet Frame House

56 Eden Street
New Zealand
Childhood home of Janet Frame
Now open every day between 2pm and 4pm.
More information at:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's all about the work

It's always a highlight of my week when yet another courier parcel arrives with copies of the latest Janet Frame edition.

Kind of makes everything worth it.

Today the shiny new volume - ah that lovely smell of a new book - is the US paperback edition of Counterpoint Press's Prizes: The Selected Stories of Janet Frame.

The hardback first edition of this selection of the best of Janet Frame's published stories was released last December 2009.

This paperback is very comfortable to hold and read. It has an attractive large font. I particularly appreciate a large well-spaced font because I don't have the best eyesight.

The hardback edition has been well received and reviewed and it's good to see it being followed up by a paperback which will allow these wonderful stories to reach a wider audience.

Here are some of the reviewer responses to Prizes:

"Frame is mythic, slyly funny, and psychologically dead-on. And just as wryly critical of herself as of others, most astringently in "Prizes", a tale about the intrusiveness of success. Laced with startling observations and leaps of the imagination, Frame's gracefully excoriating stories are iridescently alive."

~ Donna Seaman, Book List

"Frame's stories, in her new collection Prizes, are deceptive treasures, unadorned but absorbing in their depth and lucidity of observation. Her understated descriptions of the color, texture and shape of the physical world - the clothes, cups, plants and animals that comprise it - grant her work sharp insight into the distinctly human dramas of identity, loneliness, and loss."

~ Ruth Curry, Literary Review.

"Frame's stories remain entirely applicable to contemporary issues. They are a kinder, gentler 1984, pointing to the danger of 'well-meaning' coercion and compulsory psychological conformity."

~ Savannah Schroll Guz, Gently Read Literature

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Learned elder of the tribe

Am looking forward to seeing this new book by Peter Simpson, on Leo Bensemann, New Zealand artist, printer, editor and publisher.

It will be interesting to hear some more details about the internal politics of the Caxton Press where Bensemann was a key figure.

It wasn't until the gifted but dissolute Denis Glover left Caxton Press in November 1951 that Janet Frame's now legendary collection The Lagoon and Other Stories (currently listed on a prestigious educational syllabus in France as one of the classics of English language literature) was finally published (in 1952) after the accepted manuscript had languished on Glover's desk for several years.

Peter Simpson, Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland, is an important cultural commentator for New Zealand, and there's a fascinating interview with him by Scott Hamilton on the blog Reading The Maps.

The interview includes amongst its riches, a description of the founding of the Holloway Press that recently published the edited correspondence between Charles Brasch and Janet Frame.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

These I have loved

New Zealand poet and anthologist Harvey McQueen has just released a treasure of an anthology.

Harvey McQueen has chosen his favourite 100 poems, and many of my own favourites appear in his list, and I've met a few new ones, so I'm really enjoying comparing his choices across New Zealand poetry in time and space, to mine. If I ever had to choose 100 NZ poems myself, say for my exile on a desert island, many will be the same.

He's selected several poems each from the "greats" of NZ poetry, such as Curnow, Baxter, Frame and Tuwhare.

As usual, some of my favourites (poets and poems) are missing, but I don't feel that diminishes this book in any way; the editor makes clear it's a personal choice, and his taste is so excellent who would quibble? (Except perhaps for the omission of work by the wonderful Kendrick Smithyman who in my opinion should never be left out.)

The book is divided into thematic sections with illuminating small introductions explaining and celebrating McQueen's selections.

He has chosen 5 poems from Janet Frame, lovely choices.

This book will be for me a delightful companion volume to the indispensable but rather heavier 99 Ways into NZ poetry I reviewed recently. Loved is more easily held (as it is a smaller, lighter book) and I have already found it suitable for quiet moments of contemplation on the sunny back step at breakfast, or for peaceful perusal of a few poems before bedtime.

It would be an ideal volume to use while trying to memorise some more of Godzone's classic poems - a lost lamented practice. I nearly know Bill Manhire's heart-breaking Erebus Voices poem off by heart, and wish I could recite Ruth Dallas's 'Milking before Dawn' also. Many of us Kiwis can chant along with Baxter's High Country Weather, and some of Sam's and Hone's pieces.

And Quardle oodle ardle is not all there is to the Magpies - it's a dreadful hopeless tale!

Meanwhile the erudite 99 Ways is also never far away, as I continue to dip through all the sections.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parallel Lives

Click this link
for the New Zealand Listener review of
Dear Charles Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence
Edited by Pamela Gordon and Denis Harold
(Holloway Press, University of Auckland, 2010)

Monday, October 11, 2010

53 Dahlia Street

Janet Frame lived at 53 Dahlia Street, Palmerston North. I recall this was a good house. Large, and solid, and full of character. Lots of memories.

Now it's for sale.

And it has attracted the attention of the local newspaper, the Manawatu Standard.

Reporter Michelle Duff has unearthed a really lovely story about Janet Frame, and it sounds so typical of Janet's generosity and friendliness: a local eight year old aspiring writer once left a note in Frame's mailbox asking for advice. The following morning Janet Frame turned up at the little girl's house with the gift of a blank notebook inscribed to her (Vanessa Barnes, now aged 29) saying "To Vanessa. If you want to be a writer, you must write, and see what happens".

The news article contains the usual delightfully contradictory statements about the mythical Frame, eg: she "was not often seen about town" but despite this, "Palmerston North residents remember her vividly".

Monday, October 4, 2010

News from Janet Frame Fiction Award winners

Inaugural Janet Frame Literary Trust Fiction Award winner Kelly Ana Morey's new novel Quinine already looks like a winner.

Reviewer Nicky Pellegrino made the claim last week that Quinine "has got to be in the running for next year's NZ Post Book Award".

Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino for Radio New Zealand National

(Afternoons with Jim Mora 28 September 2010)

I agree with Pellegrino's rave review. Quinine is a mature, confidently achieved novel with a very satisfying structure and an excellent, absorbing plot. Morey is mischievous in her manipulation of the historical genre with a fresh contemporary perspective. A postmodern Jane Austen. Morey stands out in the contemporary crop of NZ literary fiction writers, as one of the few who have the ability to present believable characters who come alive on the page, and who are interesting and who are capable of development (or deterioration). One tires of the ventriloquist/puppet syndrome being used to promote some theory or even the invention of unlikeable and wooden or insipid characters for the purpose of settling petty parochial scores. Even where one suspects in-jokes interposed into Morey's text, they're drawn into the narrative in credible ways. Such humour is also too rare a treat in this risk-averse publishing climate. Quinine is an enjoyable page turner, full of surprises and hidden levels, and as with all good literature, you come away from the experience having learnt something about life.

In other news from Janet Frame Fiction Award winners, Alison Wong's poetic novel As The Earth Turns Silver continues to receive critical and popular acclaim. It took out the top honours in this year's New Zealand Post Fiction Award, has been shortlisted for the Australian Prime Minister's Award, thus putting Wong on a list alongside the likes of JM Coetzee and David Malouf. The novel has also been ranked at number 42 on NZ book chain Whitcoull's Top 100, an astonishing feat for a first novel (and for a literary one, given that most of the top places are taken up by popular and genre titles), and continues to attract translation deals around the world.

Congratulations to Kelly Ana Morey and to Alison Wong, and we wish you all the best in your careers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

'Reclusive' or 'exclusive'?

Janet Frame in good humour at one of several Mayoral Receptions she attended during her last years in Dunedin (Photo Reg Graham)

I've been astonished by seeing a particularly ignorant reference to Janet Frame's "reclusiveness" in an article in a New Zealand Sunday newspaper.

I know, I know. I shouldn't read the gutter presses. And I know, I know, you can't fight Myth.

But I can't help being outraged when people who should know better dish up this garbage, and dress it up in a pseudo-literary context. The report is by a journalist who introduced herself to the famous author at a public event, was perhaps rebuffed (unsurprisingly since there is reference to an at least two year previous history of what sounds from the other side of the shorthand pencil a little like stalking), yet within those few seconds managed to look deep into Frame's soul, enough time to realise "that her reclusiveness wasn't mythical, but essential to her survival. To survive in the world, she seemed to need to live on its fringes." Oh dear, and yet, we are also told that Frame was immediately "ushered away to meet local creative luminaries".

So make up your mind, was Frame able to rub shoulders with those luminaries or not? If she was, then doesn't that contradict your argument that she can't "function in the world"? And did it occur to you that many of the "local creative luminaries" were actually longterm friends or acquaintances of Frame's, and that she actually preferred to spend time with her friends rather than being harassed inappropriately at a civic celebration by a self-important journalist who considers her own career is more important than respecting the occasion?

How did someone acting so like a paparazzo get so close to a celebrity anyway? Would a journo expect to be able to approach Peter Jackson or Angelina Jolie or the Queen or Obama (to pick some extreme but relevant examples) and strike up a best friendship based on a moment's introduction?

What was it about Janet Frame that made so many people not realise she was a celebrity? That made them think her apparent inaccessibility was due to some pathology, rather than being a characteristic of the very famous? That made them assume she had nothing better to do with her time than apply herself to building up their career, answering their patronising queries, or reading their manuscripts? That she would be pleased to answer the door to unannounced visitors and invite them in and bare her soul to someone who had clearly prejudged her anyway?

That an awkward meeting was due more to the anxiety and clumsiness of the supplicant?

I suppose I was particularly angered by this stupid anecdote because I was named as one of the supposed gatekeepers guarding and "ushering" Frame. Hilariously, the usher/bouncer on the other side of Janet was named as her friend poet Ruth Dallas. Those in the know would immediately realise that when Janet and Ruth went arm-in-arm in public it was because of Ruth's near-blindness, and she was being guided, not because Janet was being guarded!

Anyway, how many friends and bouncers and gatekeepers and colleagues that you socialise with happily do you need to have before you cease being defined as "reclusive"?

Because at these mayoral receptions Janet mixed and joked and chatted with numerous people:

Mayor Sukhi Turner (they liked each other very much, I heard them both say), with Michael King, with Ruth and her niece Joan, with Cilla McQueen and her mum who sat next to Janet (elderly ladies not being so keen on bouncing around the room); with poets Peter Olds and David Eggleton, journalist John Gibb, with old friend Hone Tuwhare, with archivist Stuart Strachan and academic Jocelyn Harris, friend and photographer Reg Graham (who took the above photo) and his wife Judith, Ted Middleton and Cynthia, and these are just the people I recall chatting with Janet.

And of course Janet had her own entourage, as celebrities do (especially those who attract stalkers as she did) consisting of several family and close friends. But it's not just celebrities who go out and about with friends. Treasured elderly ladies, if they're lucky, usually have some family along with them.

If Frame was alone and spoke to nobody, I could get calling her "reclusive". If she didn't actually make an appearance, then reclusiviness could also could be an inference. But it's hard to imagine how Janet Frame could have been less "reclusive" in her last years in Dunedin. She frequently hosted gatherings at her favourite restaurants and cafes around town, the guests including family and friends and a constant stream of colleagues and out of town visitors. She attended launches and talks and art gallery openings, film festivals, concerts and dance performances. She made new friends in those years, and managed her many existing relationships, and renewed and deepened some of her former South Island contacts.

Myth is so powerful that it prevents some people from interpreting the evidence of their own eyes. They would rather ignore the truth in front of them, than lose the comfort of the story they have acquired culturally, especially because those legends are so internally consistent, so symmetrical, so unlike real life which is much more unpredictable and untidy, and which does allow for a real mystery, a mystery that cannot be glibly "unravelled".

More on the launch

A section of the crowd who came to the Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland, to celebrate the launch of Dear Charles Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence.

Please click on this link to read poet Elizabeth Smither's thoughtful launch speech for Dear Charles Dear Janet:

Text of a speech by Elizabeth Smither

Dear Charles Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence

Holloway Press, University of Auckland, 2010

Limited edition, letterpress printed by Tara McLeod.

NZ $250

Order by contacting:

Or download the order form:

The volume includes facsimiles of an exchange of letters between Charles and Janet after the two friends had been to see Midnight Cowboy together in Dunedin on a Saturday night in June 1970.

These days we'd email or facebook or text our subsequent thoughts about such an encounter, but in the 60s and 70s it was not unusual to write to each other across town, putting a stamp on your letter and posting it! Charles wrote on the Sunday, thanking Janet for a gift she had given him, and mentioning that he was still thinking about the movie ("scenes from midnight Cowboy keep coming back to me"...) Janet replied the following day, giving her impressions of the movie (and of Dustin Hoffman).

(Facsimile images were provided courtesy of Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka a Hakena, University of Otago)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NZ poetry in the Frame

A fascinating new survey and analysis of New Zealand poetry has just been published:

99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry, edited by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts (Random House NZ, 2010)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Smither in the Sunday Star-Times

It's a big, heavy book, full of marvellous essays and useful insights, thoughtful contributions from many of the poets, and a generous supply of photographs and book cover images, and dozens of full poems to accompany the explanatory text.

There is of course, a showing from Janet Frame in this book. One of her poems was chosen by the editors to illustrate "Sound" poetry. Also her commercial success as a poet is considered under the heading of "Popular Poets" (there is a statement - rather an understatement - that her posthumous collection The Goose Bath sold 3,000 copies which in New Zealand merits a "gold" sales status. In fact it sold many more). Because of the evidence for such strong sales, usually only connected with the populist and the pub bards, Frame must be grouped together with the other New Zealand commercially successful New Zealand poets. There's a suggestion that in Frame's case it's her fame as a novelist and a memoirist that attracts the reading public to her poetry publications, rather than any appeal - or compromise - on her part towards becoming a "people's poet."

I think that it's perhaps still too soon for Frame's contribution to NZ poetry, and her place in the hearts and minds of poetry readers here, to be fully recognised by the official discourses of academic commentators. In fact the academics tend to locate Frame's work as belonging to high culture and esoteric literary studies, and are often heard to claim her work is "difficult" - the inference being that only the highly educated can understand and engage with her; the popularity however, of her poetry, and the number of times her poems have been quoted over the years, for a range of popular culture purposes, would tend to contradict this proprietorial stance of the academy.

I was astonished once, while researching which poems from The Pocket Mirror had been adapted by musicians, or anthologised, or quoted in various contexts, to find that over half the poems from that book had found so much favour with the reading public and with other writers and artists that they had been moved to quote or adapt them. Often the "anthology" poem even of a major poet, is fairly easy to predict. Frame's extensive range of expression and subject matter makes her poetic oeuvre a rich and varied source of inspiration, and provides many choices from experimental, to lyrical, to ballads, to political protest, to the spare and perfect imagist poems, etc.

(The Frame oeuvre so far published, that is! As with many of the great poets, she has left a rich supply of poems for posterity to consider.)

Although Frame is frequently quoted for her self-deprecating comments about her own poetry, this angle is increasingly overdone, I feel. Poetry was central to her vision and to her practice, and she was adamant in declaiming her poems whenever she had the opportunity. Almost invariably when Frame gave an interview or a speech or a public reading (including at a prison!), attended a conference or festival, or did a recording, she chose to include a poetry reading as part of her contribution. Almost all her novels seamlessly interweave poetry with the prose. She wrote letters to the editor in poetry, and often included poems in letters to friends and acquaintances.

It's a little known fact that Janet Frame's first book of poetry, The Pocket Mirror (first published 1967) has sold over 10,000 copies across several editions in New Zealand alone.

Janet Frame's posthumous collection The Goose Bath (2006) has sold not 3,000, but nearly 5,000 copies in New Zealand, and the NZ paperback edition is still selling steadily after fresh reprints.

These above figures do not include the healthy international sales for Frame's poetry volumes published in the UK and the USA, and in Australia.

This indicates that there is more interest in Janet Frame's poetry than can be attributed to her fame as a novelist and memoirist.

As Listener reviewer Hugh Roberts said, prophetically, perhaps, about the The Goose Bath (The Stain of Words, 2006):

"This is a volume that alters the landscape of New Zealand poetry."

However there are not as many references to "Janet Frame" in the index at the end of 99 Ways, as there may seem at first sight. Unfortunately several of the index entries point merely to the prosaic word "frame" appearing in the text! Here are the phrases pointed to by the Frame, Janet index entry:

working class frame
a different frame
a regulated frame
the poetic frame
in this 'frame'
the frame of poetry
imposing a specific frame
the need to frame social issues

Now I call that "found poetry"...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review of Dear Charles, Dear Janet

Portrait by Jane Ussher, NZ Listener

Dear Charles, Dear Janet: Frame & Brasch in Correspondence

edited by Pamela Gordon and Denis Harold
Holloway Press 2010

Reviewed by Gordon McLauchlan

"I enjoyed this engaging book for what it contained,
instructive as it is about both personalities,
and for the craftmanship of the people involved in making it."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Janet Frame ist göttlich und wird es bleiben." ~ Alice Sebold

German translation of Towards Another Summer

released tomorrow, 17 September 2010

Notes on the Limited Edition

A reminder that if you want to obtain the fine edition of the above book, order details are available on the HOLLOWAY PRESS website.

Prominent NZ author Elizabeth Smither gave a most beautiful address at the launch, and Holloway Press publisher Peter Simpson also spoke.

I gave a brief talk also, on behalf of the editors (myself and Denis Harold) and the Frame estate.

Here are some of the notes I wrote towards my short speech:

Congratulations to everyone involved in producing this work of art.

In this day of e-books, digital files, audio books and mass production, print on demand, pirated editions, institutional photocopies, how wonderful it is to celebrate the art of the handmade book.

To my knowledge, this is Janet Frame's shortest print run (at 150 copies) and her highest retail price (at $250).

I know that Janet often yearned to have one of these fine editions, but how could she ever have managed, because her readership was too vast and her career on too broad a canvas. Publishers were always eagerly awaiting the next manuscript.

As it turns out, she didn't always hand her manuscripts on to them, but that's another story!

It is true to say, that from very early in her career, Frame's commercial potential was recognised, and her agents and publishers would likely never have allowed such a gratuitously non-commercial project as this, conceived purely for the beauty of the work and as a gesture of support for the art of the fine press, and as a tribute to the literary relationship between Janet Frame and Charles Brasch.

All that work for little economic return, compared to a standard main stream publication, but we're so glad to have been able to take part in and support this project, just for the love of the content and the form of the book.

Some people have expressed surprise at the evidence in this book for the obvious tenderness of the friendship that developed between Janet and Charles - both are generally regarded as reserved and solitary people - and although it was known that Charles Brasch was Janet's wealthy "patron", it was not widely known that he was also her friend.

So another nice thing from my perspective, about releasing this text, is that it will run counter to the popular impression that Janet Frame had nothing but "mentors" and "patrons". Everyone else in New Zealand literature, it seems, is allowed "friends" - but the myth of Janet Frame does not easily allow for the recognition that Janet did in fact had many close friendships. So her friends are commonly defined as "patrons" and "mentors", or defined as somebody else's friend rather than hers.

Charles was Janet's patron, but he never patronised her.

In this book you can hear Janet and Charles in conversation, in their own words, speaking for themselves. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Frames within frames

I recently visited Frank Sargeson's house at Takapuna, and took this photo of this photo pinned to the wall very near where the photo had been taken.

The photo, of course, is of the elderly but spry Janet Frame dancing on the floor of Frank's bach, on a return visit "to the scene of the crime" with her biographer Michael King, who took the photo.

Why do you think Janet is dancing? I wonder if Michael ever guessed?

OE (Ted) Middleton

I'm sad to report that another one of Janet Frame's contemporaries, Ted Middleton, passed away recently, at the age of 85 years.

Here's an item from Dunedin's TV Channel 9 in which the executors for Charles Brasch and Janet Frame pay their tribute to Ted Middleton, on the day of his funeral, by reading from the recently published book Dear Charles Dear Janet. Charles and Janet refer in the excerpt to a new publication by their mutual friend Ted, a book of stories illustrated by Ralph Hotere.

Ted first met Janet when she was boarding with Frank Sargeson at his Takapuna home, and was one of many observers and acquaintances from that time who did not dine out on bizarre anecdotes about her so-called "odd" behaviour - alas the public hasn't yet heard so much from the reasonable ones! - Ted simply noted that when he first met her, she was shy, but pleasant.

Perhaps his clear perception was due to the fact that like Janet, Ted was firmly rooted in his allegiance to working class "rules" and so he didn't patronise her from a judgmental middle class perspective, just because she didn't conform to the norms society expected of women in the 1950s.

Ted was also a free spirit and a yearner after social justice.

Ted and Janet came to know each other better when they were both living in Dunedin, through their mutual friend Charles Brasch.

Rest in peace, Ted.