Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Over the transom

Phrase of the day: "over the transom" = a publishing industry term for manuscripts that arrive unsolicited, deriving from the transom window above the door of a publishing firm, through which hopeful writers would thrust their efforts after hours. Most such manuscripts would of course end up unopened on the "slush pile".

I've always heard that publishers, editors (and literary agencies) are overwhelmed by the amount of literary submissions they receive unsolicited.

It is perhaps a lesser known fact that prominent authors also receive many unsolicited manuscripts from writing hopefuls. Janet Frame was often sent manuscripts by strangers, in the hope that she would read them and recommend them to her literary agents or to one of her publishers, or comment upon them and give advice.

What has surprised me, since becoming Janet Frame's literary executor, is that I too regularly receive unsolicited manuscripts and I am asked to read them and make comments or give advice, and it is hoped that I might forward the manuscripts on to Janet Frame's literary agents or publishers. 

I'm sorry, but I really don't have time to read unsolicited manuscripts, and it is not appropriate to expect me to forward them to Janet Frame's literary agents and publishers.

Patrick Evans is "preposterous and wrong"

"Preposterous and wrong" is how Frame biographer Michael King described a claim by English Department teacher Patrick Evans that in writing Frame's biography King had acted merely as a puppet for Janet Frame. (The presumption being the biography could not be taken seriously as a work of neutral scholarship.) 

King made his retort during a speech delivered at the Tasmanian Readers' and Writers' Festival at Hobart in August 2001, but because of King's untimely death the Evans accusation is far better known than the King rejoinder. It's safe to say that the 'ventriloquist dummy' jibe has suited many a patronising Frame commentator for whom the King biography - based as it was on fact and not on the malicious gossip that had informed much of the previous public and private discourse about Frame - was an awkward document, presenting as it did a self-directed, clear-headed, robust and ambitious Janet Frame that challenged their own condescending portraits of her as ethereal, dependent, pathologically anti-social, and at best "fragile".

 Preposterous and wrong are two words that in my opinion are two excellent words describing the pseudo-academic writings of that notorious Frame parasite Patrick Evans. 'Preposterous' because of his questionable moral stance culminating in the theft of her identity soon after her death, in order to reinvent her history in a turgidly written fan fiction novel; and his own lack of neutrality towards the great author, following Frame's spurning of him as a would-be biographer. And "wrong" because of the countless errors that have characterised Evans's deterministic proclamations about Frame, from the very first foolish bio-critical speculations in which he disseminated false facts about her real family, having assumed that a family she wrote about in a novel was her actual family, to those stubborn errors about her that he continues to make, on whom the ink is scarcely dry, including his apparent belief that by 1955 she was an "unknown" writer, when she was already a celebrated prizewinner, publishing regularly, and widely regarded as the "one to watch" in the New Zealand literary firmament, which is why Frank Sargeson - perhaps perceiving the threat to his own status as top dog - had pursued her tirelessly and persuaded her to join his campfire.

The paparazzi Evans - behaving more like a celebrity stalker than a level-headed man of letters -  has repeatedly derided Frame's autobiography, and he has also mocked Michael King's authoritative biography of Frame, claiming that both were full of lies and omissions, and that there was more truth about Frame to be found in her fiction. And now, apparently, in his own fiction, a lacklustre rip-off called Gifted, which he has claimed is the "consummation" of everything Frame was not able to achieve in her work...!

Listen to his bizarre claim yourself in the last of these video clips:

Patrick Evans's own 'truths' about Frame were apparently gained by guesswork and invention, yet he claims her own honestly told version of her life is the "myth". Snidely, he refers to Frame's autobiography and King's biography as "the authorised version". All this, perhaps, to obscure the fact of the ridiculous errors he made in his attempt at an unauthorised biography. In his continued campaign to discredit Frame and to reinvent her after his own image, he has felt it necessary to resort to writing a novel filled with gross distortions of almost every fact about Frame's brief stay in Takapuna. Perhaps Evans finally realised that his supposed 'insights' about Frame were not able to be supported by rigorous research and recourse to historical fact.

No wonder Evans has so consistently attacked the veracity of the King biography. If you read the King text next to almost any of Evans's vague and unsupported speculations, you start to notice how many errors pepper the Evans polemics. And the fanfic 'novel' can be recognised as the travesty that it is.

Here's Michael King hitting back at Evans for his sneering suggestion that King was merely a ventriloquist's dummy on Frame's lap:

"It is a biography written in consultation with its subject, because that is the only way in which it could have been written satisfactorily in her lifetime. The secondary literature was so riddled with error [20 errors of fact in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature] that only Frame herself could provide a clear foundation of reliable fact upon which narrative and analysis could be built. Only Frame could ensure that her family and friends would cooperate with a biographer. Only Frame could authorise access to her correspondence and permission to publish copyright material. Only Frame could release her own photographs for publication.

But the suggestion of one reviewer, one of Frame's would-be-biographers [Patrick Evans], that I have sat on her knee like a ventriloquist's dummy and voiced only those aspects of her life which she alone wanted to show the world, is preposterous and wrong. I wrote the text; I proposed what should or shouldn't be there; and I made final decisions about what would or would not be in the text. And sometimes I made those decisions in the face of Frame's opposition. It is very much to her credit that she not only consented to relive with me some of the most painful episodes in her life; but she also recognised my right, as a fellow professional, to make ultimate decisions about treatment and content."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You are now entering the (Dutch) human heart

Janet Frame
new release:
July 2011
Dutch translation of Janet Frame's selected short stories
Translated by Anneke Bok and Nen Lenders 

ISBN 9789044514018


Every day is poetry day for some of us, but how good that there is a day set aside for the nationwide celebration of poetry. Tomorrow the winner of New Zealand's poetry book of the year will be announced, and from the top of the north to the bottom of the south there will be large and small gatherings and readings devoted to the art of poetry.

It's fitting this week that the poetry of one of New Zealand's best-loved bards, the late Hone Tuwhare, has been released as Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Works (Godwit 2011). Hone was based in Dunedin for many years and so he and Janet Frame were on kissing and cuddling terms (mind you Hone was on kissing and cuddling terms with a lot of people, he was a charming and outgoing person!)

As she did for her other literary friends and contemporaries, Janet made a point of attending Hone's launches and readings whenever she could. Janet and Hone had both been Burns Fellows at the University of Otago so they met up sometimes at Burns Fellow reunions. She also attended the unveiling of Hone's 'Writers' Walk' plaque in the Octagon just a couple of years before she died.

Last weekend I was browsing through the local newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, and I saw a photo of Hone Tuwhare giving a poetry reading at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Hone was standing at a podium in front of an installation of the wonderful work 'Black Phoenix' by another great New Zealander, the artist Ralph Hotere. The photo was taken from behind the audience, and I knew whose white frizzy mop of hair to look for, because I remembered that Janet Frame had attended that reading. Sure enough there she is, captured from the back, listening intently. Here's a link to the newspaper article about Ralph Hotere (who celebrates his 80th birthday this year) and if you were to click on the photograph of the poetry reading at Dunedin's Wordstruck! festival that took place in May 2000, you might be able to recognise the unobtrusive elderly lady merging into the crowd. Any strangers that recognised her respected her right to privacy; in the context, she was among friends and lovers of poetry and art. (Anyone who didn't recognise Janet Frame in public, may well still be under the impression that the "famous recluse" never left her house.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The elephant in the room

‘Why don’t you prune this tree?’ Peggy asked as a branch pinged at her face. ‘It must be the oldest pear tree I’ve ever seen. Look at its trunk, all gnarled like an elephant. And if you’re not careful it’ll grow right inside your kitchen door. Not to mention blocking your view and your light and the insects that will come in.’

Intensive Care and Daughter Buffalo (Vintage, Random House NZ 2008)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Excellent of its kind

Manifold Utopia: The Novels of Janet Frame by Marc Delrez (Rodopi 2002)

Here's a book I can recommend highly, if you're a student interested in exploring an academic perspective on Janet Frame.

Find on amazon.com

Google Books sample

When grad students go bad

A troll, in internet slang, is a person who posts inflammatory or abusive material anonymously, with the intention of causing arguments or discrediting an opponent or just for the pleasure of spreading negativity.

A sock puppet, in internet slang, is a further anonymous persona adopted by a troll in order to increase the strength of their attack.

A straw puppet (from the term "straw man") is a sock puppet that ostensibly takes an opposing point of view from the troll, but so weakly that their arguments can be easily demolished by the troll.

A meat puppet
is any weak-willed associate of a troll who permits themselves to join in the anonymous attack by posing as a stranger sympathetic to the troll.

There's a particular "troll" out there who has in the past few years been amusing himself on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by posting derogatory reviews of recent Janet Frame-related titles, especially the new releases from Janet Frame's estate, granting them only one or two stars and attempting to dissuade any potential readers from wasting their money by buying the titles in their new editions.

Mr Troll clearly has decided to try to make the star ratings of the Janet Frame new releases as low as possible by finding a newish product that has not been reviewed yet and giving it a poor review. (It's too late for him to be able to affect the ratings of most of the older editions on sale, which have received a range of different genuine reviews and generally come highly recommended, although from a cursory look around ads for older editions, it seems that the troll has occasionally made curiously incoherent attacks on positive reviews - which seem to offend him to the point of losing his cool.)

Of course one is entitled to an honest opinion, and there is nothing wrong with giving a bad review to a book one didn't like, but Mr Troll's ten reviews are all of Janet Frame-related books and they are all negative.

Which begs the question, why does he stay in the kitchen when it's too hot for him?

The fact that there is a good indication that Mr Troll also employs sock puppets, rather indicates that his motives in making vigorous critiques are more than literary; they're personal, and appear to be vindictive.

In fact we do know Mr Troll's real identity - his login name of "expat" can be traced digitally to an earlier online identity which was also his email address when he enrolled as a grad student studying Janet Frame.

Apparently Mr Troll is unaware of the electronic trace, because he seems to feel safe enough in his pseudonym that he will even attack a scholarly tome on the subject of Janet Frame that was co-edited by one of his university supervisors.

One of Mr Troll's identities is 'Expat' and another is 'Samiam'. Here he is reviewing the same book in almost identical words, on the same day, first on America's amazon.com, and then on amazon.uk.

(1) The Troll

Here is Mr Troll as the anonymous Amazon.com reviewer expat, on the 1st April 2010, on amazon.com reviewing Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009)
edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Expensive & Inessential, April 1, 2010 (One out of five stars)

By ExPat "ExPat" (NZ/UK/US)

This most recent collection of academic essays on NZ writer Janet Frame is outrageously overpriced, particularly considering the paltry number of contributions. A far better resource and value is the 1993 collection edited by Jeanne Delbaere, with more than twice the number of contributions as well as an expansive bibliography.

Quoted from: amazon.com 
(Accessed 17 July 2011)

(2) The Sock Puppet

Here is Mr Troll's sockpuppet or meat puppet Samiam also on the 1st April 2010, but this time on amazon's UK site amazon.co.uk, reviewing the same title, Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009) edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Overpriced, 1 April 2010 (one out of five stars)

By Samiam "Samiam" (London)

This latest collection of scholarly interpretations of Frame's work is outrageously overpriced, particularly when considering the limited number of essays featured therein.

Those interested in exploring this side of Frame's work would be advised to buy a used copy of the 1993 "Ring of Fire" collection, which includes more than double the contributions and an extensive and invaluable bibliography on her work.

Quoted from http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3IZX9C8S09GIN
(Accessed 17 July 2011)

Why is the April Fool so bitter? Perhaps his academic paper was rejected for the anthology? Or perhaps he found that the theoretical tenor of the volume rendered his own research ideology irrelevant?

As Stanley Fish said, "Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low".

Expat's other nine reviews are all of Janet Frame titles and all are just as negative as the report he gives the book edited by his university supervisor. Three of Samiam's six reviews are Janet Frame-related.

A fascinating phenomenon, and rather a waste of energy. Firstly because this pathetic attempt to harm Frame 's reputation has come at least 60 years too late. She's out of the box already! "A gnat may bite an elephant, but the gnat remains a gnat, and the elephant remains an elephant". But also one wonders why the troll doesn't turn his energy to writing legitimate and rationally argued critiques, signing them with his own name and thus getting the credit for his effort, and earning some credibility in the field, instead of resorting to anonymous gutter commentary in little visited corners of the wild west that is the internet?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Janet Frame In Her Own Words

Janet Frame In Her Own Words
(November 2011) Penguin NZ

'It is the desire really to make myself a first person.
For many years I was a third person – as children are, 'they', 'she';
and as probably oppressed minorities become, 'they'.

(Janet Frame, from a 1983 radio interview about writing her autobiography)

For the first time ever, this collection brings together Janet Frame's published short non-fiction in one volume, as well as material never seen before. Letters to the Editor spanning 50 years of Frame's life are published alongside essays, reviews, speeches and extracts from interviews. This startling collection provides an unprecedented range of factual writings about herself, her life and her work. It reveals many aspects of Janet Frame's character that will challenge some long-standing myths and preconceptions about New Zealand's most famous author.

Published: 31 Oct 2011

ISBN 13: 9780143566274

ISBN 10: 014356627X

RRP: $42.00


Link to high resolution version of cover on Penguin NZ website

Yet another book about Janet Frame

There has been quite a rush of books written about Janet Frame in the last year or so, ranging from serious and authoritative overviews to, at the other end, the flaky and the downright crassly exploitative (there's even been a parasitic fanfic novel - a genre of questionable ethics and even more questionable merit - published by a university press no less!).

Janet Frame seems to provide a rich field for constructing theory and making speculations, even for indulging in fantasy.

None of the critics and commentators seem to agree with each other, but of course that's the point I suppose.

Here's another work for the bookshelves! Frame scholars will need to read it!

by Matthew St Pierre
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (2011)
(Also available on Kindle)

Frame fans, or those wishing to check out Frame for the first time, I'd hope would look to find some book by Frame herself that they haven't yet discovered.

You can hardly evaluate an analysis of her work without being familiar with it yourself. Or judge the usefulness of speculations about her life, without having read her own autobiography. Although people do!  
I did notice that many reviewers of the fan fiction novel that found an opportunistic enough publisher in NZ last year, were woefully ignorant of Frame's life and work - so much so that they made fools of themselves by gushing over how much they learnt about "Janet" in a novel that was not actually based on Frame or her work at all, but that merely co-opted her identity as a method to push yet another sidelined academic theory about her, the English professor/novelist inventing facts because if the real historical truth were told the patronising premise of the novel would have been unsupported.

Some of the Frame scholars have a mantra that Frame is "difficult" to read - they certainly make her seem so (and they're invested in wanting to help the reader 'understand' her), but Janet Frame is no more difficult to read than any of the other great authors, and she is certainly not as difficult to read as most of the books written about her, especially the ones that succumb to jargon and adhere to a particular school of thought, therefore performing calisthenics with Frame's oeuvre in order to fit it to the desired theoretical framework.

Almost everything Janet Frame published is currently in print somewhere in the world - but her work is also readily available internationally, in libraries or secondhand.

Beware - some hardback first editions are rare and priced for collectors only!

Also beware - some highly priced editions available on auction sites that purport to be rare, are actually still technically in print, and are available from the publisher or their distributor at retail prices.

Janet Frame's major English language publishers are:

And save some space on the shelf for a volume of Janet Frame's own previously uncollected and unpublished non-fiction,
to be published by Penguin NZ in November 2011.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Old familiar haunts

Baltimore USA. A home away from home for Janet Frame who often visited her friend John Money at his home near Johns Hopkins University where he worked. She sometimes stayed for lengthy periods and made many friends in the neighbourhood and the city. Jim Wilson of Phantom Billstickers recently postered Baltimore with a range of poetry posters including Janet Frame's 'The End'. Jim's timing was a little spooky as he chose to walk the streets of Baltimore on the late John Money's birthday, July the 8th.

One of the things Janet celebrated about Baltimore was that it had been the home of Edgar Allan Poe, an author she very much enjoyed reading. She loved to read ghost and horror stories, and she had admired his poetry since her childhood.

Janet Frame's selected poetry is available in the UK and USA in the Bloodaxe Books edition Storms Will Tell and in the Random House NZ paperback second edition of The Goose Bath, and in Australia from Wilkins Farago.

Photos: Jim Wilson