Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Delve in and enjoy"

Another wonderful review of Janet Frame in her own words in today's Fairfax newspaper Dscene (Wednesday 30 November 2011, page 20):

"Delve in - and enjoy the insights" 

"The joy of this volume is every reader will discover different points of interest."

One of the reviewer's personal highlights was "the inclusion of Frame's notes alongside some of her interviews, as well as letters that recount her impression of specific interviews. This reminds readers interviews are not a transparent source revealing the 'real' Janet Frame."

‎"Keep it by your bedside, allow its pages to fall open randomly, delve in and enjoy an artist of the written word".

You can read this newspaper online at

The review is on page 20.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"It's an utter gem"

Radio NZ Afternoons With Jim Mora
Book Review with Vanda Symon
Tuesday 22 November 2011
"I loved this book."

Here's the review I've been waiting for, of Janet Frame in her own words - a review from the perspective of the general reader, an openhearted generous response to what is actually on offer in this book, without any of the professional agendas that can hamper the genuineness of the pontifications of some 'experts', especially if they have territory to defend or scores to settle.

"It's an utter gem."

This is the sort of overwhelming feedback we have been getting from readers - the book is wonderful, it is fascinating. It's readable, consisting of such a wide variety of short pieces, ranging from witty, mischievous, moving, thoughtful, that you can dip into it as you will, and always find something interesting.

It is not just for the pointy-heads, and it is certainly not just for the "Janet Frame completists" (unless you define 'Janet Frame completists' as the tens of thousands of readers in NZ alone who are eager to see new work by Janet Frame and to hear what she has to say for herself.)

As Vanda Symon says, you don't need to have even read any of Janet Frame to enjoy this book - anyone who likes reading biography will find "It's a fascinating insight into a person".

Among other things, "It gave a glimpse of her own personal frustration at the way she was portrayed in the media."

And of course 'It's a gorgeous little hardback and  it's really tactile and nice to hold."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tim Curnow on his father's centenary

Lovely to hear Tim Curnow's voice on Radio New Zealand Arts on Sunday the other day (20 November 2011). The son of poet Allen Curnow, Tim was his father's literary agent for decades, and he was Janet Frame's friend and literary agent for over 25 years as well.

Tim gave a short interview with Lynn Freeman which you can listen to here, in which he talks about his input into gathering the tribute poems for Allen Curnow's centenary that have been published in Landfall 222Tim says his favourite of the poems is the one by Janet Frame, which I had sent to him several years ago and he has always loved it, but it is only published for the first time in the Landfall centenary tribute.

Janet Frame, who had a great admiration for Curnow's poetry and also of course knew him socially, wrote the poem in 1987 and after Allen Curnow's death she decided to use it as her memorial to him. She recorded the poem in 2002 for the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive which is lodged in Auckland University Library.

It's fascinating to hear Tim talk about his father the great poet, and also to hear his perspective as a New Zealander who has lived in Australia for many years, on his view of "the three most significant cultural figures" in the New Zealand landscape - judging by their substantive body of work and the influence they have had on so many people internationally - and they are: Allen Curnow for his poetry, Janet Frame for her fiction, and Colin McCahon for his art. Tim was lucky enough to have grown up among and known all three of those great creative New Zealanders.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A tribute to Allen Curnow

LANDFALL 222 is out this week, and it contains a tribute section for New Zealand's greatest poet, Allen Curnow, on the year of his 100th birthday.

As part of this tribute to Curnow a new poem of Janet Frame's is published for the first time. Frame wrote the poem in 1987 while she was in Auckland living in Albert Park as the inaugural Frank Sargeson Fellow. The poem describes a party at Karl and Kay Stead's place, with Allen Curnow one of the other guests. Allen tosses off a comment: 'Auckland is wonderful in March', and with her typical wry humour and acute observation, Frame describes the ripples that this casual statement sent through the literary gathering:

The poet in his seventy-plus body
he's a great poet
long live his heartfelt asides
extracted wih precision and power
toned and tuned as the brilliant harmonious gift,

that in secret, away from the party, makes his poem.

As well as the section commemorating Allen Curnow, this issue of Landfall also devotes a section to work arising from the shock waves of the Christchurch earthquake.

Listener review

There's a review of Janet Frame in her own words in the NZ Listener (26 November - December 2), on newsstands currently but it's not online yet.

The full text of the review will be archived on the NZ Listener website on the 5th Dcember2011.

Considering the literary and historical significance to New Zealand of a new work of non-fiction by arguably its greatest writer and certainly one of its most famous cultural 'icons' Janet Frame, the space given to the Listener review is fairly ungenerous. Reviewer academic Kim Worthington perhaps reflects a little frustration by saying:
It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the sheer force and power of Janet Frame's many writings, or her often incisive and insightful comments, especially when she discusses her own work
The issue of shrinking space allocation for literary features and reviews is of course one that breaks the hearts of book page editors and their readers in this day and age, not just the reviewers. But the watchful reader might note that the Listener has found plenty of room in the recent past to squander on squalid appropriations of Janet Frame, and in association with that, on critiques of the Frame estate that appeared quite unfair to many readers (as I have been told privately), so much so that a prominent literary figure was prompted to write a letter to the Editor in our and in Frame's defence.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent review and it lays out the relevant points, especially that in this groundbreaking collection Frame is allowed to "speak for herself" and to "challenge the stubborn myths" that have "built up around her". Worthington is simplistic in identifying what she understands those "myths" to be, confining them to the realm of the mad genius and the social recluse, and overlooking the many other common misconceptions about Janet Frame that this book disproves.

FYI these other 'myths' would include: that Frame didn't have a sense of humour, that she was depressing and depressive; that she never spoke in public; that she never spoke about her work; that she only did a handful of interviews with the success of those attributable only to the exceptional sensitivity of the interviewers, without whom Frame would have been unable to utter any coherent thoughts; that she was incapable of appearing at festivals and socialising with other author and industry personnel; that she consistently refused to and was unable to promote her work; that she was a weak, lost, passive person always under the care of some guardian or mentor; that her books didn't sell well in NZ,  when in terms of literary fiction she was one of the highest earners in NZ; or that her books didn't sell well overseas when she was one of the few NZ authors who could even get published internationally, and her works were widely translated; that she wasn't well known here in NZ, or that she was little known 'overseas'; that she moved restlessly from place to place with no reason; that she only wrote about a limited range of subjects and that those were all concerned her own tragic life; that she was a 'primitive', uneducated, who stumbled upon the great themes of the twentieth century only through contemplating her own misery; that she had fled teaching because she was too afraid of the inspector, that she had 'fled' teaching because she was incapable of functioning in the real world; that she constructed reality only through language (a particularly toxic myth rampant currently); and I haven't scratched the surface of the myths, here are more: it is commonly said that Frame only came to prominence because a movie was made of her autobiography, when the genre of autobiography is the province of the already prominent person; that the reading public are more interested in her life than in her work; that she had an unhappy childhood; that she never had sexual or love relationships; that she was 'pathologically' or 'cripplingly' shy, when in fact she was just [no modifier] shy, and she wasn't always shy, she was 'shy' only when people were being jerks. And she was not, by her own declaration, 'fragile', but she was in fact of a strong and cheerful disposition, opinionated and didactic. Etc. These kinds of myths are even harder to fight because the public don't even know they are myths. The "mad genius" legend is easy enough to ridicule, but these others that derogate Frame's professionalism, belittle her career successes, call into question her vocation, her dedication and her ambition, are more insidious.

I guess time will tell whether this volume really manages to slay any of these myths - the response to Frame's own attempts to "set the record straight" through her three volumes of autobiography was for some Frame 'scholars', such as Patrick Evans, to claim that Frame was a liar and couldn't be taken at face value in her non-fiction, that you really need to look into her fiction to find the 'truth' about her (his truth, that is, his patronising biographical speculations that had Frame close to suing Evans: "I resent this myth", she says in this new book, and "I have even contemplated legal action to subdue it.").

But now of course, Evans would rather you eschew Frame's work altogether and instead read his novel about 'Janet' and become acquainted with a completely false Frame - a cuckoo of his own invention that he has laid in a nest he seems to have assumed was by now up for grabs.

As Worthington says, there's a lot in Janet Frame In Her Own Words, a lot to absorb; so I am predicting it will take a while for the aficionados to digest, and even to comprehend the ramifications of this massive amount of new information, and of the old information stripped of its cottonwool wrapping, for the future shape of the Frame Legend.

Meanwhile, please enjoy "the sheer force and power", the "sly wit and generous humour", and so much else.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking for Janet in all the wrong places

The latest newsletter from the Victoria University writing academy IIML has this quirky little item:

A possible Janet Frame sighting?

Literary spies of our acquaintance recently visited the St James Station woolshed, a huge 1870s structure, pit-sawn timbers, on the banks of the Clarence River, North Canterbury. The interior is full of shearers' graffiti - names carved, stencilled and written, dating from 1877 to 2008. Writes our correspondent:

'Among the shearers' stencilled graffiti, by a ladder leading to the loft, I found "J. Frame. 1940 41". This was written in red sheep raddle in a cursive style, below it in capital letters was "J. FRAME. 1940" and below that also in the red sheep raddle which is unique in the graffiti, "Pte Adams 1940 OAMARU" and below that deeply carved in half inch letters was "J. FRAME. 1940". Could this be Janet Frame at 16?'

 Our verdict? Could be.

This isn't the first time somebody has assumed Janet Frame is the only J. Frame in the known and unknown universe, despite the fact that Janet Frame had a sister J. Frame (my mother, who more than once found her work reproduced based on the misunderstanding that her poem signed "J. Frame" was actually written by her sister). Janet's father was one of twelve siblings and the aspiring poet JF likely had a brace of uncles and first cousins with the same first initial and surname, let alone second cousins, not to mention the pool of unrelated Frame families that also settled in the South Island.

Why anyone would even speculate that the teenage Frame would spend two years in a sheep shed in Northern Canterbury in the company of an Oamaru soldier beggars belief, especially when at the time she was busy being a prefect of her college, excelling at her school work and being a key member of the debating team.

Oh and by the way, what is "red sheep raddle"? According to Google it's a red pigment used for marking sheep.

This is the kind of "make-a-wild-guess based on the slimmest of coincidences, and that will be good enough" that has characterised the decades-long patronising biographical guesswork made by Patrick Evans in his obsessive search for "clues" to the "riddle" of Janet Frame.

The riddle, or the raddle?

I must say this 'sighting' is at about the level of accuracy that I have come to expect from much of the 'citing' emerging from English Departments of Universities.

This anecdote fits in nicely with the Evans-led current backlash against the historical Frame. Evans (along with, it seems, the Wellington School whose darling he now appears to be despite the fact that he has been their most acerbic critic in the past, deriding them for their churning out of mediocre Manhire-lite overly workshopped monotonous pap), rejects the fact that Frame was a sophisticated, highly educated, self-directed, well-read, intellectual, strong, independent, determined and ambitious author. Evans in his notoriously eccentric academic work and in his demeaningly sexist appropriation of Frame in his fan fiction, attempts to annihilate the real Janet and and replaces her with a monstrous cuckoo: a waif that comes from nowhere, knows nothing and nobody, and invents modern Western philosophy and cutting edge literary movements in her head. She dwells in an unreal world and constructs reality only through language. Accidentally she taps into the avant garde from a rural shed, or an urban one, because she's a bit 'gifted' (and a bit touched too, one infers).

Frame is no threat to the men then, because it all pours out of her without touching the sides, while the boys can pride themselves on their craft. What's more Frame's chief genius appears to consist of ridiculous word games and pathetic puzzles - and Evans really has hit a nerve with this misrepresentation. Because then Frame is no threat to anyone, least of all the kiddies young and old who are fantasising that they will be the next great thing. No wonder they've embraced the fake Frame, you don't even have to read her to claim to have an insight into her....

Let's just make a joke of her instead, and that has long been Evans's chief stance. As far as I know he's still compiling an album of the off-the-wall anecdotes that people tell about Frame ("no need for it to be true").

Do you detect a snide undertone in the IIML newsletter item? Maybe I'm being too sensitive? But you can look back over time and find that this newsletter (and the IIML Twitter account) do occasionally throw in a bit of a Janet Frame snigger. I've noticed from time to time they source something they can have a giggle at from my blog - it seems to interest them more than the serious literary news concerning her work. I can't remember the last time they had a positive spin. Meanwhile on the whole the Wellyterati social network has been furiously promoting the demeaning novelisation of Janet Frame by Patrick Evans that was published by their pet University Press, and the sneering subtext of that novel seems to have infected their attitude to Frame in general.

What a shame the literary spies of the IIML aren't alert enough to have noted the recent publication of a lifetime of Janet Frame's writings and speech about her life and her work. Instead of tweeting another of their bizarre snippets about Frame, they might like to as eagerly tweet about her new book Janet Frame in her own words. It's been disillusioning to observe the eagerness with which the IIML coterie has accepted and promoted a despicable distortion of Frame's theories of writing, but when the aspiring authors have a chance to celebrate the real thing they would rather indulge in a piece of pseudo-biographical trivia.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Scottish Diaspora

Janet Frame's father, son of 19thC Scottish immigrants to NZ

There's a Scottish Festival on currently in Janet Frame's city of birth Dunedin - 'the Edinburgh of the South'.

Dunedin New Zealand today still retains strong characteristics of its role as one of the settling places of "the Scottish Diaspora".

Festival events will include a Ceilidh, unveilings of memorials, St Andrew's Day celebrations, the crowning of a Queen O' The Heather, a Robert Burns Poetry Competition, Scottish Dancing, bagpiping, Scottish Highland Games (caber tossing etc), films showings and Scottish literature. 

Scottish historian Tom Devine will give several addresses on such topics as : The "Death" and Reinvention of Scotland; The Lowland Clearances and the Scottish Exodus to New Zealand; and The Puzzle of Scottish Sectarianism. He will also promote his new book To The Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora.

Janet Frame was a typical product of the Scottish immigration to New Zealand. Janet Frame's grandparents Mary Paterson and Alexander Frame travelled to Dunedin, New Zealand, married here and had twelve children, one of whom was George Samuel Frame, Janet Frame's father, who was a dedicated player of the bagpipes (as you can see in the photograph above).

Mary Paterson had worked in a Paisley cotton mill from the age of eight and in 1874 she made the journey to New Zealand as a domestic servant on the Mairi Bhan. Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, she married Alexander Frame who originated from Hamilton in the Clyde valley in Scotland. (His four older brothers also left Scotland, but they all settled in North America, three in the US and the fourth in Canada.) Mary was illiterate when she arrived in New Zealand but by the end of her life she had learned to read and write and had worked as a midwife in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. Alexander worked as a blacksmith. (For more details see chapter 1 of Wrestling with the angel: a life of Janet Frame by Michael King.)

The Mairi Bhan (image courtesy National Library NZ)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Best Bookshops - Dunedin

There's a marvellous bookshop in Dunedin, situated on the edge of the Otago University Campus: The University Book Shop (fondly known as 'The UBS'). It's one of the best bookshops in New Zealand actually, and frequently wins prizes for that. I'm a frequent visitor and frequent purchaser too. They always have some new release that is just too tempting. They generously host book launches for the many excellent authors who live in Dunedin. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and love books, and if they don't have what you're after then they'll get it for you. They have a good stock of Janet Frame In Her Own Words located on NZ books new releases table near the front door!

But the Paper Plus in the heart of town, in the Golden Centre Mall also has an excellent selection of New Zealand books for sale, and with a strong fiction and poetry section. In fact they have all Janet Frame's New Zealand editions on their shelves. There are seventeen Janet Frame titles in print in New Zealand currently, so that's a remarkably well-stocked shelf, and Paper Plus Dunedin provides a much better turnout of Frame's books than many an independent bookshop that might normally think they were entitled to look down their noses on such a mainstream franchise store. Not this one though! Go Golden Centre Mall Paper Plus! I hope you have lots of literate and discerning customers who will appreciate the service you offer!

Paper Plus Dunedin (Golden Centre Mall) finds space on their NZ non-fiction new release table for Janet Frame In Her Own Words, among the cookbooks, earthquake mementos, and rugby albums. Bravo for a chain store to extend themselves beyond the blatantly commercial! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writing advice from Janet Frame

Ruth Dallas and Janet Frame, NZ delegates to the 42nd International PEN Congress
Photographed at the conference, Sydney Australia 1977

One of the many gems from Janet Frame in her own words:

I just would like to say that a writer can’t choose her characters. Someone says, ‘Why don’t you write about this, why don’t you write about that, why don’t you write about these people?’ A character chooses a writer, a writer doesn’t choose a character, and there must be, before the writing, a feeling of haunting by this character, a deep feeling of being haunted. I think that is the only basis for writing. It may not emerge worthwhile, but anyone who sits down and says, ‘I think I’ll write a poem’, is to my mind, well — I don’t think that’s a favourable beginning for a writer. ‘I must write a poem', yes, but not 'I think it would be a good idea to write a poem'.

(This quote is from a recorded interview with Janet Frame in Australia in 1977, made when Janet Frame was a NZ delegate to the 42nd International PEN Congress in Sydney. The transcript of the interview is published for the first time in Janet Frame in her own words.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The ODT's 150th birthday

Arts Philanthropist Fred Turnovsky and Janet Frame at a Wellington Award Ceremony, 1984

'The ODT' - The Otago Daily Times - is frequently referred to as "The Oddity" by those familiar with it.

New Zealand's oldest daily newspaper celebrates 150 years of publication this very day, and there have been festivities and commemorations in the weeks leading up to this milestone.

When she was a little girl my mother June misheard the name Otago Daily Times and thought it was the "Tiger Daily Times" (a linguistic phenomenon now referred to as a mondegreen).

The Otago Daily Times was an important part of the Frame family life - in fact as far as I know Janet Frame's first published writings appeared in the pages of that paper - by the time she was ten years old old she was regularly sending letters and poems to "Dot" of Dot's Page. Along with her four siblings, Janet was one of 'Dot's Little Folk' or DLF for short.

The Frame family also had a tradition of writing letters to the editors of newspapers and Janet's mother Lottie used to fire off stern letters whenever an occasion demanded it. Janet Frame herself took up this practice as is so well attested in the new book Janet Frame In Her Own Words which includes a selection of Janet Frame's letters to the editors of publications, written over fifty years of her life (from the age of 10 to the age of 60).

So Janet Frame, probably the greatest writer so far to emerge from New Zealand, who was born in Dunedin and died here too, had a long a fruitful relationship with the local newspaper the OTAGO DAILY TIMES, the first publication where she saw her name (as well as her pseudonym AMBER BUTTERFLY!) in print.

For the 150th anniversary the ODT has raked through the 150 years of issues of the paper to pick out some representative and notable news items and today the paper was bulging with a commemorative edition: a varied and rich smorgasbord of reprints of significant stories from throughout those 150 years.

News isn't just about war and sport and disasters and new buildings and commerce; arts and education and cultural pursuits must figure too, so I was curious to see what the journalists would choose to include from the many dozens of reports about Janet Frame over the years (if indeed they chose to recognise her at all - which was always a possibility - we all know the saying that "a prophet isn't recognised in their own hometown"!)

Reporters would have had to select a Janet Frame-related item from an awful lot of material: from her childhood correspondence to 'Dot's Page'; to her first notice in 1952 that her book THE LAGOON had won the Hubert Church Award for prose; to the notices about and reviews of her twelve novels and her five books of stories, her two books of poetry, her children's book and her three books of autobiography, as well as the film adaptation made of her autobiography. Then there were the conferences and books published about her writing, and the celebrated biography by Michael King, launched in Dunedin at a party attended by Janet Frame and by the Prime Minister Helen Clark. Also there were the documentaries made about Frame, and the prizewinning Vincent Ward film and the Globe Theatre dramatic production, both based on her novel A State of Siege. And many classical musical adaptations of her poetry and a couple of documentaries were made about her life and work, all rating notices and reviews.

Then there were the interviews and reports: her triumphant return to NZ in 1963 after 'becoming famous' overseas - or her return to live in Dunedin a couple of years later to take up the Burns Fellowship - or the various other literary and civil honours and prizes and awards and fellowships she picked up over the years. There was of course the CBE investiture and later the Order of New Zealand bestowed by the Queen. Each notable event in Janet Frame's stellar career merited a bit of a write-up in the ODT - as well as other NZ newspapers too of course. A highlight for Janet Frame - and Dunedin - would have been the bestowal of the honorary doctorate from Otago University in 1978. Frame later was awarded another doctorate and a medal from two other universities, but the prestigious honour must have been especially sweet coming from her home town university - the one where as a young woman she had studied English, Education, Philosophy and French.

There were overseas fellowships too, and the Commonwealth Literary Prize for Best Book in the late 1980s. Appearances at Festivals, and overseas honours as well as the constant stream of prizes for her books. All would have their notice, and often a photo, in the ODT.

And then in her later years Janet Frame returned to live in her home town of Dunedin and was frequently snapped around town for the pages of the ODT - attending a Mayor's reception, attending the ceremonies for writer's walk plaques of her old friends including Charles Brasch, Ruth Dallas and Hone Tuwhare. Then she attended the Burns Fellow reunion in the late 1990s and was snapped with all the other old Fellows - she was the esteemed elder of the tribe as one of the younger ones put it. And she attended book launches and art gallery openings in Dunedin, and in Gore, with her photo taken or a few words spoken to a reporter frequently making the pages of the ODT. And she was in the news again whenever it was rumoured she was on a "short list" for the Nobel Prize in Literature, there being a particular fuss about that in 2003.

And then she fell ill and died in the arms of her family, at Dunedin Hospital. Being widely accepted as one of the great writers of the 20th Century, the news of her death flashed around the world and obituaries appeared in every major paper from the New York Times to the Guardian to the Sydney Morning Herald. Then there was her state memorial in 2004 held at the Dunedin Town Hall, attended by the Dunedin mayor, the Prime Minister and the Governor General, and televised live for the rest of the nation with a live satellite feed overseas picked up by the BBC and other news organisations. That was big news locally, nationally, and internationally, but in the way of a great writer, whose words are their legacy and so they never really die, it wasn't the last the ODT had heard of Janet Frame, because there's been a steady stream of posthumous publishing, of news from the estate and from awards given by the charitable trust Janet Frame set up. Her significant archive of papers and correspondence was bequeathed to the Hocken Library. And in the town where she grew up, Oamaru, her childhood home has been rescued and has become a cultural tourist attraction visited by fans from all around the world, and news of which frequently features in the regional pages of the Otago Daily Times, its geographical reach still encompassing Oamaru as it did when Janet Frame was a child writing to its children's page.

The item chosen by the ODT to appear in their birthday edition today was suitably representative - it was a report from June 9, 1984, of Janet Frame winning a major prize for "Outstanding Achievement in the Arts", endowed by philanthropist Fred Turnovsky

In the ODT's quirky fashion the item referred to Janet Frame as "Miss Janet Frame" - an anachronism by 1984, and it seems a patronising way to refer to such a renowned author, but the conservative and fiercely provincial and independent ODT was the last newspaper in NZ to adopt the "Ms" usage and it was not their policy to attribute Janet Frame with the title "Dr" despite her several honorary doctorates.

(The photo above is from Wellington's Evening Post , taken at the award ceremony held later that year.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

"an indispensable book" ~ North & South

More high praise for Janet Frame In Her own Words, this time from North & South magazine - the December 2011 issue (on sale now).

Quite rightly the painstaking care that Penguin NZ has put into the design and physical format of this exquisite little handbook is recognised and commended:
"Everything about this production is perfect, from the small format to the elegant dust jacket to the use of paper so creamy you want to pour it over strawberries."

And the content of this collection of Janet Frame's thoughts about her life and about writing is truthfully described as "a treasure trove of writing spanning her career", leading to the judgment that "this is an indispensable book".

The reviewer does find one fault: he appears to suffer from the misconception that all the material within the covers has been published before, and so therefore he would have preferred to splice it all together in one long chronological thread. But he fails to note that the "four more sections" that complement the first three sections of previously published material (published short non-fiction, interviews and letters to the editor) all consist of previously unseen work (speech notes and reports, private correspondence, and assorted unpublished writings), so that in the journey through the book one progresses from the most public to the least public of Janet Frame's thoughts about her life and her writing.

There are certainly many patterns and correspondences to be made among the various texts, but these connections and resonances are far more complex than can be arranged in a simple linear format.

It's a perennial problem, how to arrange material - this reviewer would have opted for a chronology, while the editors have chosen to group the material by where and how it first appeared. With a writer as major as Janet Frame, the posthumous divide is a more significant factor to take into account than when dealing with more minor historical figures. (Although interestingly, most of Frame's public texts reprinted here are pretty much unknown to the general public, and many of them have been unknown or overlooked even by so-called academic 'experts'.)

The reader is invited to develop their own hypertextual passage throughout the different genres, or read through the pages consecutively, or just to dip in and out, and the formal handbook structure allows for all these different ways of approaching the text, and for each reader to make their own discoveries. Where the dates are known they are clearly indicated so if one wanted to reconstruct the material chronologically that is possible too. The work will certainly sit happily next to Frame's autobiography of the first half of her life and give many insights into where she went, and what she said, after that.

Heart Felt

Found on the internet,
this felt doll named 'Janet',
made in Italy:

E lei è Janet in onore della scrittice neozelandese Janet Frame autrice del bellissima libro: "Un angelo alla mia tavola"

In honour of New Zealand writer Janet Frame,
author of the most beautiful book
An Angel at My Table.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The first review: "an essential book"

Today's ODT has the first review of the newly published Janet Frame In Her Own Words:

"The editors have assembled an essential book to accompany and cast light on the rich literary heritage Janet Frame left us."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Millicent Peapod School of Fiction

One of my favourite pieces from the new book Janet Frame In Her Own Words is a satire on creative writing academies called 'News from the Millicent Peapod School of Fiction'.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Top Ten

I found a new list of stats for this blog - for the past two years, these are the countries where the most visitors come from:

New Zealand
United States
United Kingdom

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Janet Frame in Germany

The German translator of Towards Another Summer recently featured in a news report in Badische Zeitung, involved in a women's literary event at Freiberg on the theme of Janet Frame. There's a lovely photo (if you click on the link) of some happy smart women gathered to celebrate books in their life. It's a universal language, the joy of the book-loving woman!

Wenn Bücherfrauen feiern, liegt es nahe, dass im Mittelpunkt eine von ihnen steht – auch wenn sie nie ein Vereinsmitglied war: Janet Frame, die in Deutschland vor allem durch die Verfilmung ihrer Autobiografie "Ein Engel an meiner Tafel" bekannt wurde, war ihr ganzes Leben lang besessen vom Lesen und Schreiben.
The news item seems to claim that Janet Frame's writing had become known in Germany only after the 1990 film adaptation of her autobiography, which is a shame because Germany was actually the first foreign country to discover and translate Janet Frame in the early 1960s and German editions of her work have been well received over the years. Certainly Janet Frame hit a much wider readership in Germany and elsewhere through the accessibility of her three-volumed autobiography written in the 1980s, but long before the film made her even more famous, Janet Frame's reputation had already been high among readers of quality literature and her work was also a well established topic for academic study.

The hauntingly poignant posthumous novel Towards Another Summer, with its themes of homesickness and exile has really touched a nerve since its publication last year in Germany, and it has received rave reviews, was reprinted, and sold so well a second edition of Dem Neuen Sommer Entgegen has been published this year in paperback.

New Zealand has been named as the guest of honour for next year's 2012 Frankfurt book Fair and so as the two countries enter their year of literary communication and exchange one hopes that both from the New Zealand and the German side of the encounter that the history of Janet Frame's reputation in Germany will be given its due recognition and that the wikipedia-lite myth-making will be kept to a minimum!

Crying out for annotation?

Janet Frame wouldn't agree.

Her writing is rich with allusion and parody and parallel and intertextuality, a pleasure for those who recognise the references and engage with them. But she sometimes had to battle with her editors who tried to get her to be explicit about her ubiquitous quotes and echoes of the great writers of the past as well as snippets of popular culture, song, myth and history. She didn't want to have to spoil the flow and stop and say "as so-and-so said..." It would be as intrusive as if TS Eliot had included all the sources of the wonderful tapestry that is The Waste Land, in the actual poetic text itself.

I can predict - wryly - that the very people who may well cry out for more footnotes and for explanation and interpretation of Frame's non-fiction, are the ones who already know many of the little details anyway. One suspects that such a person would just want to make sure everyone else knows they know. And if their complaint is that the 'context' hasn't been set, then you can be sure that they will mean "the competing context", ie, the standard patronising version so prevalent in the New Zealand universities.

Having no context is a context. It asks you to take Frame at face value instead of second guessing her or challenging her agency.

In putting together In Her Own Words our policy was to explain Janet Frame as little as possible, and to give her the floor.

Annotation, in any case, is a great delight best left to the professionals who enjoy it so much, and there is a field day to be had with the new book. Please enjoy!

Michael King gave a talk at the 2000 Wellington International Festival of the Arts in which he tried to convey Janet's position on annotation and citation. I think he gives her too harsh an attitude in attributing her the belief that people "did not deserve" to be told, if they hadn't already noticed an allusion, because I think her feeling was more that the text shouldn't be dissected, it should be absorbed on a deeper level as a living thing; but I do remember her annoyance at her prose being divided up and categorised according to its influences and echoes, so from my own observations I can confirm that he has the basics correct:
Her view was that those who recognised the allusion found their own reward; those who did not, did not deserve to be told. Her wish was that readers and critics simply enjoy eating the pudding instead of putting in their thumb and pulling out a plum, and by so doing announcing what good boys they were. And it was this preference that had made her uncomfortable about the function of literary criticism in general, which she said, produced newly sprung essays "With my own books lying alongside them like shrivelled skins".

Page 30, 'The Road to Oamaru (pp18-33) in Tread Softly For You Tread On My Life: New & Collected Writings Michael King (Cape Catley 2001)

Choosing a title

Regarding the title of Living in the Maniototo (1979), Janet Frame said:

"I wanted a Maori word to get into the American newspapers"

(From a 1985 feature interview with Stephanie Dowrick printed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Cited on page 132 in Janet Frame In Her Own Words, Penguin NZ, November 2011)

And so the Maori name Maniototo ('bloody plain') did get "into the American papers" - a more rare feat back in 1979 than it might be over thirty years later, in 2011. Amongst other US publications, there was a review - as always - of the internationally acclaimed New Zealand author Janet Frame's latest novel in Time magazine.

Margaret Atwood reviewed Living in the Maniototo for the New York Times Book Review. She called it ‘quirky, rich, eccentric, nervous and sometimes naive, like a cross between Patrick White’s novels and Stevie Smith’s poems." Janet Frame's scintillating new novel with the Maori word in the title was also reviewed in the New Yorker (‘a clever, high-spirited performance ... her readers [are kept] happily alert to the cross-currents of her intellect, her imagination, and her memory’, as well as in the Los Angeles Times and the Kirkus Review and others.

Over thirty years later the New Zealand Maori language - once looking endangered after colonial onslaught - is flourishing, and so - arguably - is the literature of New Zealand, which will feature as the guest nation at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Hello global village!

According to Sitemeter, the most recent 100 visitors to this blog (over a period of a couple of days) have come from:


France x4
- several locations

Japan x7
- several locations

Canada- x3
Alberta, Ontario, NW Territories

USA x 24
- several locations including
New Orleans
New Hampshire

UK x11
 - several locations including
London (several)

Australia x7
- several locations including:

NZ x18
- several locations including
Te Kauwhata

and 15 "unknowns" from who knows where - their isps cover their tracks...

Over a longer period the spread is a little wider.

(Other recent visits have been from Estonia, Belgium, Korea, Russia, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia...)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Frame was not autistic says Michael King

"The notion that she's some kind of perpetually frightened autistic creature that shrinks from all human contact just isn't true" ~ Janet Frame's biographer Michael King to Iain Sharp, quoted in 'In the Frame' Sunday Star-Times, 15 September 2002.

Was Janet Frame autistic?

It's a seductive theory and it has had two or three aggressive advocates whose passion for their fantasy about Frame to be correct, is strong to the point of virulent, and is not apparently subject to reason or evidence.

They will even invent support for their theory, as in the case of autism researcher Hilary Stace who has been quoted in the New Zealand Medical Journal no less, as saying this:

"I discussed the possibility with [the late] Michael King who indicated agreement, mentioned she had shown interest in autism since the diagnosis of her great niece, but suggested it was best not to publicise my research as it might upset members of her family."

(Hilary Stace, NZMJ 26 October 2007)

Stace put those false words into Michael King's mouth not just in the medical journal, but also in a letter to the Star-Times, and elsewhere on the internet.

I wrote to her at the time saying that I had been close to both Janet Frame and Michael King and the suggestion was ludicrous that Michael might have bought into the idea that Janet had high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome.  I knew him too well and he knew Janet too well, and I had spent a lot of time in their company and had discussed topics like this with them both, together and separately. But Stace continued to make this claim that [the late] Michael King had supported her, despite admitting she had no evidence for it.

(Just as there is no evidence for the conspiracy theory that somehow there was a diagnosis that for some reason the family or estate was or is "hushing up"... as if we care for anything but the truth!)

I still consider it an outrage that Stace has misused Michael King after his death to slander Janet Frame's family. What Stace has written is untrue and unfair and Michael was not there to contradict her. Her claim that there was a hush-up was basically an attempt to neutralise my objection to the offending Sarah Abrahamson opinion article and characterise me as merely having an emotional reaction rather than one based on fact and experience. I was cruelly accused of feeling "shame" at my daughter's autism and of being in denial of Janet's supposed autism, also apparently through disgust for the condition of autism in general. How can one counter such ad hominem and underhand tactics? I was advised to withdraw from such a toxic battlefield and so I did.

But, what about Janet Frame herself, who did not die until 2004, and so was one of the "family" and yet doesn't seem to figure as an important component of Stace's anecdote or of Michael's warning? It's instructive that Stace ignores Frame's possible reaction to her essay at the time she showed it to King. While Stace is claiming that Michael said that members of the Frame family will be "upset" if she makes her "discovery" public, Frame herself was still alive and well! And yet the "family" who will be "upset" doesn't seem to include the subject of the spurious diagnosis! Stace has so internalised her psychological projections onto Frame, it never even occurs to her that - if Michael ever made a warning - that the warning might have been that Frame herself would sue Stace if she were to make an unfounded public medical diagnosis. (Janet was ever ready to sue anyone who had public claims about her medical status - she was heartily sick of their unwarranted intrusions.)

Why would Frame's family be bothered?  It also shows that Stace has a patronising view of Frame as incapable of having her own reaction - perhaps Stace believes the mythologised nonsense that Frame led a dependent and protected life and wasn't fully in control of her faculties? Is Stace's stereotype of Frame as isolated and passive, why Stace can so blithely label Frame against her will and without consulting her personally, and expect to publish her 'research' without inviting Frame's fury and possible litigation?

Or did Stace imagine Frame would be thrilled that at last someone has "understood" her? Little wonder she has had to invent an obstructive family to protect herself from the realisation that Frame would not in fact welcome being slapped with yet another misdiagnosis yet again made from misconceptions and without proper investigation.

Michael most likely pussy-footed around the subject to protect Stace's delicate ego. It wouldn't have been the silliest theory he had heard about Janet Frame and he had learnt to be tactful when he was regaled by someone with a fanciful anecdote or belief.

I've said it before - it's the Kerry Fox Janet (from the movie) these people count as their intimate pal who would be relieved - in their fantasy - to hear they (alone) truly understand her. It's a compliment to Fox's acting - and of course to the brilliance and immediacy of Frame's writing, that sensitive souls feel so close to their "Janet".

In real life, Frame was a strong self-directed person and none of her family would have dared to try to interfere in her affairs. Nobody 'guarded' her. She was top dog. It just shows how much these people think they know Frame as a person, and how little they attribute her any agency and self-direction. She's a puppet to them, and it surprises them that she had the intelligence and foresight to leave a legal structure in place after her death to prevent just their kinds of attempts to exploit Frame and misuse her copyright. They're annoyed by the opposition they encountered and they personalise it to me as person and mother and try to discredit me.

Well it's hard to refute a claim that has no basis in fact. Which is why most knowledgeable professionals have steered away from this 'debate'. They can see it has no validity. It is pretty hard to counter a scientist who invents their data, and that's pretty much what these people did in their campaign, including 'diagnosing' a cultural legend rather than investigating what the real person was actually like.

It's not the first time an autism debate has been found to be based on an untruth.

Anyway eventually "the truth will out": that is a firm belief and comfort of mine. And so early last year I came across evidence in the historical record that in 2002 Michael King had refuted the use of the word "autistic" to describe Janet. It may well be argued that Michael was not using the word 'autistic' in a scientific sense - and he clearly wasn't - but Hilary Stace has already told us that King had earlier read her research arguing that Janet Frame was on the autistic spectrum, so we must acknowledge that King was not ignorant; he had been presented with the theory in an academic context, including a technical definition of the autistic syndrome or disorder, so he knew what was at stake when he rejected the notion that Janet Frame was "autistic". And thanks to Stace's letter to the NZMJ, we know for sure that Michael was au fait with the syndrome, so when he is rejecting the notion that Janet is autistic, he is also rejecting Stace's theory!

In many respects I have a great admiration for Hilary Stace and her work in the community, but she has made a mistake here. I wonder if I will ever get an apology for the way she misrepresented Michael King as well as me and my family?

For further reading, please refer to my post of January 2010 for an earlier discussion of this proof that Michael King did not in fact believe the autism hypothesis was warranted, including my rejoinder to an 'anonymous' commenter who ignores all the subtlety of Michael's argument and evidence, and mine, and launches an irrelevant and self-contradictory attack on us both:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

London's controversial research Centre in the news again

I was very interested yesterday to see this news story on the website, originally published in Wellington's The Dominion Post newspaper:

The 'Centre for New Zealand Studies' referred to has been in the news before. Two years ago, for instance, when it was suddenly closed down, causing an uproar among a certain section of New Zealand's creative and academic fraternity who had supported such a worthy-seeming and useful initiative. They even organised a petition. As with the current controversy it seemed hard to get the "real story" and efforts to save the centre were fruitless, despite the efforts of NZ Prime Minister John Key (his 'intervention' apparently falling short of actual financial support). Read more (from September 2009) here:

There's an even earlier chapter in the history of this Centre that begs to be retold. Two years before the closure, in 2007, the Janet Frame Estate criticised a fundraising effort being made on behalf of the Centre for NZ Studies. An associate of the Centre had donated an original Janet Frame manuscript to the Centre and the fundraisers behind the Centre decided to sell that manuscript rather than preserve it for posterity. We felt they rather had their priorities wrong. If they were ostensibly engaged in "research" on "NZ culture" then why endanger a rare and significant piece of it just for the sake of a few thousand dollars? What was the message here? The hand-annotated A State of Siege manuscript was subsequently lost at auction, into private hands. Its original owner Bob Cawley was gifted the manuscript by Janet Frame herself, and Bob had clearly intended his Janet Frame papers to be safely and respectfully lodged in an Archive for the benefit of future researchers (we have his letters to prove it). After his death the papers and manuscripts went under the control of his widow who unfortunately had other ideas including turning some of the Janet Frame material into cash in a misguided philanthropic effort. I suggested to her that the greater philanthropy would have been to honour her husband's wishes and donate the papers to a Library under appropriate conditions.

My protests fell upon deaf ears. I even tried to contact High Commission staff but I was gate-kept and the widow's actions were defended. Slanderous comments were circulated about me in order to try to neutralise my objections (not the first time the various vultures trying to cash in on Frame have tried that strategy in order to discredit me!) It was claimed that I had been "abusive" to the widow. Again not the first time the perpetrators of an abuse have made that accusation against me when I have fruitlessly appealed to their sense of ethics...

Fundraisers for the Centre had first offered the manuscript to the Hocken Library (the 2007 approach to the Hocken was made by the same Janet Wilson who has co-authored the 2011 review of the Centre) but when the fundraisers didn't receive a satisfactory offer they decided to put the manuscript up for auction in Wellington.

There were some news reports at the time - the first, before the auction, in the NZ Herald, came across as a promo for the sale, and didn't question the morals at all: "typed on yellow A4 paper, the manuscript is all the more precious and revealing for its hand-written editing notes, a hand-written title page and dedication. Its reserve is set at $14,000." The item notes especially that: "Proceeds will go to the Centre for New Zealand Studies, at Birkbeck, University of London."

I was interviewed for a news report after the auction, in the Dominion Post:

Saturday, November 5, 2011


A lovely set of five book marks has been produced for the Janet Frame House at 56 Eden Street Oamaru, thanks to funding from the Real NZ Festival.

More information can be obtained from the Eden Street Trust's website here.

Each bookmark has a quote from Janet Frame and a photograph of the house or surroundings.

The quotes are:

In my family words were revered as instruments of magic
~ Landfall essay 'Beginnings' (1965)
Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination
~ The Envoy from Mirror City (1984)
Possibility was not a bag or box that could be closed and sealed, it was a vast open chute which received everything, everything; one could not choose or direct or destroy the powerful flow of possibility. 
~ Towards Another Summer (written 1963; published 2007)
There is no past present or future. Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water. 
~ Faces in the Water (1961)
I wanted an imagination that would inhabit a world of fact, descend like a shining light upon the ordinary life of Eden Street. 
~ To the Is-land (1982)

This World and That World

"This world and that world: When I talked of this world I was
referring to the world where one lived as one was expected to, that is,
a job of whatever kind, possibly marriage, children, the conventional
happenings of that time. That world referred to the world where I
might live as myself, doing what I had chosen to do, i.e. writing. My
reference to this and that world has been taken to be a reference to
this world as the so-called ‘real’ world and that world as an unreal
world. I have never lived in a so-called ‘unreal’ world. I hoped only,
with the help of elusive imagination, to transform ‘this’ world into
my ‘that’ world."

"I don’t think people [who’ve read my work or
have ‘heard’ of me] ever forgive me for the ordinary
practical reality of myself as opposed to the myth that some people
in New Zealand have created to represent me. I resent this myth. I’ve
even contemplated legal action to subdue it."

~ Janet Frame, 'Notes for Interviews' in Janet Frame In Her Own Words (Penguin 2011)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dunedin maid made good*

I was recently interviewed for Dunedin's TV Channel 9 and for a local audience I stressed how the new book Janet Frame in her own words would probably surprise some people who had been influenced by the myth of Janet Frame as a socially incapable person, given that it provides evidence for her nearly 80 years of vigorous engagement with the world.

Of course there is so much more to the book than the biographical aspect of filling in a more rounded picure of the author, but that will be just one of the pleasures and surprises for old and new fans of Frame's writing.

[* As a young woman Janet Frame worked as a housemaid in a Dunedin hotel and as a nursemaid in a Dunedin rest home. In later years she returned to live in Dunedin as successful world-famous author. As she pointed out herself, it was like a fairy tale.]