Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

Last Saturday's Wall Street Journal features Janet Frame's novel Living in the Maniototo in the "Five Best Books" series.

The theme this week is "Novel Approaches to Kindness" and the incidence of kindness from Janet Frame's novel is an unusual one.

True or False? #4

Janet Frame used the $2,000 prize from a New Zealand book award to buy a motorcycle. True or false?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Janet Frame's favourite movie

 Janet Frame's favourite movie was L’année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) by Alain Resnais, written by one of her favourite novelists Alain Robbe-Grillet. She was a great fan of the work of the French 'Nouveau Roman' authors, including Nathalie Sarraute.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A moving and heartfelt portrait

After Janet Frame died her late biographer Michael King wrote several obituaries and tributes tailored for different readerships. One was an informal personal sketch published in New Zealand for a Sunday paper, that he called 'A Life Touched by Angels and Shadows'. It's a moving piece, not academically rigorous at all, in that it does contain hints of Michael himself indulging in the temptations of myth making that do eventually seem to seduce almost everyone who writes about Janet.

Click on this link to read 'A Life Touched By Angels and Shadows' from the recently published The Silence Beyond: Selected Writings by Michael King (Penguin NZ 2011), edited by his daughter Rachael King.

The eagerness of the public for titillating 'behind the scenes' detail and a colouring in of the legend was perhaps too strong a lure at such an emotionally charged time. And Michael was basically a journalist: he knew how to give the audience the drama they sought.

So there are several exaggerated and reinvented anecdotes in this piece, whose inaccuracies are obvious to those in the know.

(1) Michael says he played Scrabble with Janet and he challenged her when she used the word 'silltits' but he is actually merely repeating an anecdote told to him by Janet's American friends and is claiming to have have been present. (Californian painter Bill Brown tells the anecdote on film in the feature length Ninox documentary on Frame's life - the word was actually 'silltitted'.)

(2) Janet never promised to bankroll Alan Duff at all, she was just making polite conversation at a convivial lunch she shared with Michael and Alan at a St Clair beach cafe. Janet did say later she was perturbed when Michael mistook her intentions, obviously thought she was going to hand her fortune over, and kicked her in the shins under the table! Alan had said he needed money, and Janet had said "Would you like me to give you some?". Michael interpreted that, wrongly, as an offer of money instead of a clarification as to whether Alan was just telling her about his project or actually pitching it. And for Michael to claim that this one over-exaggerated incident was proof that Frame was 'vulnerable to conmen' was clearly tailored for the type of newspaper the squib appeared in.

(3) Publisher Liz Calder absolutely did not fear to eat Janet's scones, in fact she and others at the gathering at Maurice Shadbolt's place had appreciated Janet's delicious baking immensely. And Janet herself happily attended the Shadbolt tea party, whereas in Michael's version of the anecdote, Janet is languishing alone at her home (this particular distortion of the tale fits the hermit myth rather better, and you'd be amazed at how often this kind of travesty of the truth has entered the so-called 'historical record' after a couple of drunken retellings).

There was a mock reverential burial the next day of the by now stale scones, because the Shadbolts and Liz Calder couldn't bring themselves to throw Janet Frame's leftover scones away in the rubbish. (All as Elspeth Sandys has confirmed in writing, in a letter to the editor of a Wellington newspaper in which Michael had made this bizarre claim shortly after Janet's death. Sandys was actually there at the tea party and the mock burial - Michael wasn't!)

But Michael's elegy is harmless enough and a well-meaning piece of rhetoric. Even Michael was susceptible to believing the embroiderings of literary gossip!  He has his heart in the right place and I think he succeeds in his intention to capture his perplexing and mercurial friend as well as he could.

As has been said before of Michael, at times like these he didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

This is the storytelling Michael, all the more charming for the efforts he makes to convey Janet's sparkling and beguiling and brilliant and deeply compassionate personality. The overall effect seems to be a really genuine and touching portrait, containing heartfelt statements such as this:

"what those who knew her will recall most vividly is her intense and immense compassion for people who were marginalised or in any respect – financially, physically or emotionally – worse off than herself. This concern was one which spilled over from life into her literature."

Another poem about Janet Frame

Author Tim Jones, the current holder of the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award has posted an interesting satirical poem today on his blog Books in the Trees.

The poem by Laura Solomon, is called:

"Janet Frame’s Adversaries Have Their Way. Janet is Lobotomised and Spends Her Life Selling Hats in Oamaru."

It's a strongly ironical, speculative poem, even a little over-the-top, but of course I enjoyed it, and it's a fine addition to a growing genre of poems about or inspired by Janet Frame.

What do I do?

Job description of a literary executor includes the renegotiation of international rights for work already published, reverting rights where appropriate and finding new publishers, rereleasing updated editions (involving comparing old editions with each other and the original manuscripts and attempting to present a text more accurate to the intentions of the author). Consulting on and approving covers. Supplying photographs. Approving new translations and relicensing earlier ones. Fielding permissions for quotation for anthologies and educational texts and other books. Corresponding with academics working on a wide range of topics who eventually publish their research. Assessing and editing and publishing previously unpublished work by the author. Advising on biographical details (a losing battle alas but many authors and editors still prefer fact to mythmaking so this is a busy part of my job).

All resulting in a lot of BOOKS. (See above for many, not all, of the resulting volumes.)