Thursday, November 29, 2012

New BBC Radio Adaptation

A new BBC radio serial of Janet Frame's autobiography has been in preparation recently.

Adapted by Anita Sullivan and directed by Karen Rose for Sweet Talk Productions, An Angel at My Table will air in two episodes of one hour each. The first broadcast will be on BBC Radio 4 on 13 January 2013.

The production stars Lorraine Ashbourne as the adult Janet Frame.

Hobbit-watchers will be interested to note that Lorraine Ashbourne's husband Andy Serkis is the actor who plays 'Gollum' in Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"fabulous writing"

Acclaimed crime fiction writer Vanda Symon reviewed Janet Frame's Gorse is Not People today on Radio NZ National's Afternoons with Jim Mora.

"It's wonderful to have these new stories," Symon said, mentioning the "huge variety" and the "multitude of moods", and Frame's "amazing ability to evoke time and place, and capture emotions really well, and the true character of people."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Etgar Keret recommends Janet Frame

Israeli author Etgar Keret recommends Janet Frame's 'My Last Story' from her debut collection The Lagoon and Other Stories.

Read Etgar Keret's recommendation and the full text of Frame's short story here:

Electric Literature's Recommended Reading Vol 7 No 3

The Lagoon and other stories was first published in 1952 when Janet Frame was languishing misdiagnosed in a mental institution. Frame had written the stories five years earlier but the accepted manuscript had also been languishing - on the corner of the desk of a dissolute publisher. When the book was finally released after that publisher was replaced, the volume won New Zealand's most prestigious literary prize of the time and the resulting publicity alerted a Doctor at the mental institution to the fact that Frame's ambitions to write may not be have been delusional after all. She was narrowly saved from a scheduled lobotomy.

'My Last Story' is available in print in several current editions around the world, both as part of the original text of The Lagoon and also appearing in a selection of the best of Frame's published stories from across her career:

Prizes: The Selected Stories of Janet Frame (Counterpoint Press)

UK/Commonwealth (ex Australasia):
The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Short Stories (Virago Modern Classic)
The Lagoon and Other Stories (Bloomsbury Books)

The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Short Stories  (Random House Australia)

New Zealand:
Prizes: Selected Short Stories (Vintage, Random House NZ)
Janet Frame Stories & Poems: The Lagoon and The Pocket Mirror (Vintage, Random House NZ)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Gorse by any other name...

Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories is a 'treasure trove' of posthumously published stories by Janet Frame that has won hearts in New Zealand since its publication in August. It has featured for 16 weeks so far, on the Nielsen NZ fiction bestseller chart, and has also attracted glowing reviews such as:

"work of a quality that adds significantly to her oeuvre"
"Frame's skill and magic at work"
"the reader is effortlessly transported"
"fairy tales for adults"

Now this collection will soon be published in the USA under a different name (also taken from one of the stories in the collection):

by Janet Frame
Publisher: Counterpoint USA
Publication date: 14 May 2013
ISBN-13: 9781619021693

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest We Forget

Janet Frame's father George Samuel Frame served in the First World War as a sapper in the New Zealand engineers corps.
"Mum and Dad were married at the Registry Office in Picton three weeks before Dad sailed to the Great War. When Dad returned from the war, he and Mother set up house in Richardson Street, St Kilda, Dunedin, helped by a rehabilitation loan of twenty-five pounds, with which they bought one wooden kerb, one hearth rug, two Morris dining chairs, one duchesse, one oval dining table, one iron bedstead and flock mattress, one kitchen mat, these items being listed on the document of loan with a chilling reminder that while the loan remained unpaid, the King’s representative (the agreement was between ‘His Majesty the King and George Samuel Frame’) had the right to enter the Frame household to inspect and report on the condition of the ‘said furniture and fittings’. The loan was repaid after a few years, and the document of discharge kept by my parents in their most hallowed keeping place – the top right-hand drawer of the King’s duchesse – where were also kept my sister Isabel’s caul, Mother’s wedding ring, which did not fit, her upper false teeth, which also did not fit, Myrtle’s twenty-two-carat gold locket engraved with her name, and Dad’s foreign coins, mostly Egyptian, brought home from the war."
~ Janet Frame, from To the Is-Land (Autobiography Volume 1)
Apparently haunted by the whole issue of "the King's furniture", Janet Frame wrote a brilliant short story based on her real-life experience of the rehabilitation loan received by her father. She called this story 'Between My Father and the King' and it has been published for the first time only this year. It appears in the volume Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories released in New Zealand in August this year by Penguin Books NZ. (The collection will be published in the USA in early 2013.)
'Between my Father and the King' has been published today by the UK Manchester Review as part of a special Remembrance Day themed issue.
"Janet Frame is one of New Zealand’s greatest writers. Equally famous for her memoirs, poetry and fiction the Manchester Review is delighted to publish her characteristically sidelong, subversive account of her father’s return from what ‘used to be called the ‘Great’ war’. At a time when the centenary of World War I looms large on the UK’s cultural horizon, Frame’s short, fantastical account resists the piety and national feelings stoked up by some more recent commemorations."

You can read Janet Frame's story 'Between My Father and the King' online
Even in 2012 the story 'Between My Father and the King'  has been labelled by the University of Manchester as 'a controversial account of the Great War', so it's easy to see why Frame never submitted the story for publication during her lifetime. Several of the other previously unpublished stories in Gorse is Not People were suppressed or criticised by various literary gatekeepers for what they regarded at the time as 'unsuitable' subject matter. Frame seems to have self-censored some of her stories that were based too closely on people she knew, or that were overly critical of various sacred cows. As Frame said herself: "Posthumous publication is the only form of literary decency left."
Please note that the Manchester Review has mistakenly categorised Frame's story as 'non-fiction' and it's easy to see why they should make that error, given the true life inspiration and the powerful imaginative force behind this small but astonishing piece of writing. Frame herself called it a short story: she listed it on a table of contents that she drew up for a book of new stories and poems that she was planning late in her life. And if you carefully compare the short story with the biographical facts it is based upon, you would be able to isolate several details that Frame has altered in order to create a more satisfying and coherent work of art. Other aspects of the short story, for example the poetic use of repetition, also mark the story out as belonging to a classic short fiction genre.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"unerring in the penetration of characters' motivation and behaviour"

"This collection of Janet Frame's work will further enhance her reputation."
~ New Zealand Herald (20 October 2012)
Review of Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories by Janet Frame

"This is a collection to spend time over, to savour, and to wonder at the author's ability to tune in so accurately to the life of her times."
"She consistently drew on an imagination and sensibility that illuminated our contemporary lives and minds."
~ Reviewed by Gordon McLauchlan for the NZ Herald Canvas Magazine

A large part of this review is devoted to discussion of the possible trajectory of Frame's posthumous reputation after her "stellar career". McLauchlan himself is reasonably confident, with some hedging, that Frame's literary reputation will not suffer the same 'long slump' as some of her contemporaries. He concludes:

"I would think little doubt surrounds the survivability of Frame's reputation as a writer."

NB: This NZ Herald review is not archived along with other reviews on the Herald's web site, which is a shame because I'm sure that the international Frame fans who mostly read this blog would be quite interested to read this commentary from a local New Zealand perspective. There's a definite air in the review that Frame's career, though remarkable, hangs in some sort of balance, with her work potentially time-sensitive, being "deeply entrenched in the language of her time", and that this particular publication has signalled a "wrap", and a possible move for Frame, or at least "some of her stories" (those that illustrate her "pitch-perfect ear for idiom") "out of fashion".

One of Janet Frame's favourite expressions was "We'll see..." and indeed we will.

Certainly the headline "Final tales wrap up stellar career" was, given this week's news that there is one last Janet Frame novel to come, a little premature.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

By their fruits

A small selection of the recent titles authorised by Janet Frame's estate

A Noble Career

at Bill Noble's Farewell
with UBS staff Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb and Rhian Gallagher
Photograph: David Howard
Bill Noble, long time manager of Dunedin's University Book Shop and one of the great New Zealand booksellers, retired recently and I had the privilege to attend his farewell function last month, at which a large crowd of booksellers, authors and prominent figures from the publishing industry joined with friends, family and UBS staff to celebrate a remarkable career. There were entertaining and informative speeches with many accolades and great affection, and considerable amusement at one of the gifts Bill received - a Kindle concealed inside a hollowed-out book.
Photograph: David Howard
The University Book Shop under Bill's leadership has become one of the very best book stores in New Zealand and hosts many of the local book launches, including the Janet Frame estate's launch in August this year for Gorse is Not People. We wish Bill all the best for the future.

A discerning book shop

Took this snapshot of a bookshop shelf in Dunedin last week - at the Golden Centre Mall Paper Plus, which I have noted before has a superb selection of New Zealand literature titles on sale.

The Janet Frame books extended onto another shelf and also included Janet Frame in her Own Words, Towards Another Summer and the autobiography omnibus as well as an extra stock of the current NZ fiction bestseller Gorse is Not People (Penguin NZ 2012). The bookseller seemed to have every Janet Frame title currently in print in New Zealand (the entire "Janet Frame Collection" from Random House as well as the two new titles from Penguin NZ).

 I hope that any literary-inclined foreign tourists among the visitors that flood into the CBD of Dunedin each summer, will find their way to this shop if they are looking for examples of the best of New Zealand creative writing, old and new and classic.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gorse is Not People #love

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Janet Frame's last novel

First publication will be by Text Publishing in March 2013

Creative Giants of Palmerston North

A website was launched recently to celebrate the many creative individuals who were born at or have lived in the central North Island city of Palmerston North:

The website quite rightly includes Janet Frame as one of the artists who have at one time or another made Palmerston North their home:

The Written Word - Janet Frame

It's a controversial enterprise (as I know to my personal cost), celebrating your tall poppies in New Zealand. Either you have left somebody off the list, or somebody on the list needs to be challenged and/or cut down to size.

I noticed this Twitter exchange, which is a tidy example of both responses:

Here are the writerly creative giants of the manawatu. Where's Sarah Laing?David Geary? Pah.

Sarah Laing
& they forgot James Brown, and he wrote that poem about coming from Palmerston North!
OMG, yes! JAMES BROWN! He's put PN on the map with that poem! + He was on Kim Hill's 'Playing Favourites'. Now that's famous!
Sarah Laing
and Fiona Farrell lived in Palmy for at least 20 years & Janet Frame, I dunno, 2 years?
Gah, Fiona Farrell! Yes! Oh man, I'm going to be filling out a lot of nomination forms.


For the record, Janet Frame did not live in Palmerston North for only "2 years" although this comment is a great example of the way in which some New Zealanders seem to feel they can just make up any old fact about Janet Frame, without checking.
Janet Frame moved from Levin to Shannon (which is near Palmerston North) in 1988, and in 1989 she bought and moved into a flat in Alexander Street, Palmerston North. In 1990 Frame moved into the Dahlia Street house where she lived until November 1995.
A full six years in Palmerston North, and eight if you think Shannon is close enough to count.
In fact if Frame had only lived in 'Palmy' for two years it might still have been a significant enough length of time to have created waves in the local district, given her celebrity. 
Two years were certainly long enough for some people to freeze Janet Frame in time in Frank Sargeson's Takapuna hut for ever! (Frame boarded with Frank Sargeson for less than two years but many dullards can't seem to imagine any life for her outside the heavily mythologised straightjacket of his mischievous portrayal of Janet as "the mad girl in my garden'. It's as if her literary successes before she met Frank, and after she left New Zealand, never happened.)
PS: I would agree that the list of authors associated with Palmerston North could well include more names, for example the poet James Brown who wrote the poem 'I come from Palmerston North'. I'm sure I've seen another poem by James Brown in which he notes that Janet Frame was also a resident of that city. In the poem, as I remember, Frame is almost knocked over by a bicycle.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A private friendship

Cover of The Man on the Horse by James K. Baxter,
University of Otago Press 1967

This book of essays based on addresses given to audiences while the poet was Roberts Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1966 and 1967, was:

"Dedicated to Janet Clutha"

Janet Clutha was the pseudonym Janet Frame lived under in order to try to preserve some degree of anonymity despite her literary fame. She had legally changed her birth name of 'Janet Paterson Frame' to 'Nene Janet Paterson Clutha' by deed poll in 1958.

James K. Baxter and Janet Frame were close friends but neither of them 'blabbed' about that friendship. As her name 'Janet Clutha' was not publicly well known in the 1960s, Jim Baxter had shown by his use of Frame's legal name in his dedication, that he was concerned to preserve his friend's privacy.

The elephant in the room


The name on everyone's lips

"New Zealand's Literature Queen Janet Frame: the name on everyone's lips at the Frankfurt Book Fair"



'A State of Siege' by Vincent Ward

Vincent Ward's film adaptation of Janet Frame's novel A State of Siege was done when he was 21 years old and still at art school.

For a short time only the whole film is available to view online at NZONSCREEN.

See Vincent Ward's website for information, images, reviews, interviews, background scenes and other commentary.


Have you discovered Janet Frame?

"She is a giant among prose writers in English. It is impossible to call yourself well-read if you have not yet discovered Janet Frame."

~ Stephanie Dowrick, Sydney Morning Herald

Poetry does sell

Poetry can sell. Who knew? Some people did - certain canny publishers who produce attractive glossy illustrated anthologies on appealing themes, and who repackage gift selections by popular poets.

Here at the Janet Frame estate we did know that poetry sells, because so many of the successful NZ anthologies have included poems by Janet Frame, and because while only two volumes of Janet Frame's poetry have ever been published, they have both been bestsellers, and have been reprinted and republished in multiple editions.

While Gorse is Not People has been having its heady 3 month run at or near the top of the NZ Fiction bestseller chart, I've had an opportunity to observe the calibre of the other "New Zealand fiction" books that swill around or rise then fall or blaze like comets through the top ten list. What has been surprising to note, is that the Nielsen BookScan "NZ Fiction" category currently includes New Zealand poetry volumes and anthologies - even illustrated ones. And poetry books regularly feature on the bestseller chart. In other words, NZ poetry regularly outsells NZ fiction!

Despite some sour grapes and sniping in recent months at the relevance of the NZ Fiction chart, anyone whose book has or has not reached the top ten, will know that it's not an easy achievement.

As a poetry lover, I'm thrilled to see poetry books there on the bestseller charts and doing so well. One week recently when Janet Frame's collection of short stories was number 1 on the list, her poetry was also represented on the same list in the number 10 slot which that week was occupied by Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems. (Week ending 22 September 2012.) Dear Heart is a gorgeous illustrated selection of poems that has been a runaway success with readers. It includes two poems by Janet Frame.

Friday, November 2, 2012

What's Gorse for the Goose

Two of Janet Frame's posthumous bestsellers in New Zealand,
Gorse is Not People (stories) from Penguin Books NZ (2012), and
The Goose Bath (poems) from Random House NZ (Vintage imprint) (2006),
are pictured next to each other this week on a bookstore shelf in Dunedin.
The big news right now in the publishing industry (international and local) of course, has been that of the 'merger' of the book giants Bertelsmann (home of Random House) and Pearson (home of Penguin).
Janet Frame is currently published in New Zealand both by Penguin Books and by Random House, so I have been very interested in all the commentary and also in the lighthearted attempts to rename the new merged mega publisher, and to find it a new logo, for example:

More amusing logo and name suggestions here.

My favourite of the suggested (joke) names has been 'Random Penguin' but I hear that the powers that be have opted for 'Penguin Random House'.

More discussion here and here: "New hope for indies?"


"I've heard it's good"

Was talking to an old friend on the phone, catching up, as you do. Mentioned that the Janet Frame estate had published a collection of new Janet Frame stories this year and my friend said, "Yes, I've heard it's good, looking forward to picking up a copy."

WORD OF MOUTH. In these days of shrinking book review opportunities and near-bankrupt publishers unwilling to spend anything on advertising for literary fiction when they get so much bang for their buck with pushing their schlock titles, word of mouth is what the work of even one of the great authors like Janet Frame must rely on.

If you've read Gorse is Not People and loved it, please tell your friends. These stories were silenced for too long. Don't let the literary gatekeepers suppress Janet Frame for a moment longer.

"Stunning object"

"a lovely thing to behold"

"I must say Penguin Books has done the memory of Janet Frame proud with this publication. It is a beautifully designed, (Anna Egan-Reid), handsome hardback and is a lovely thing to behold."

~ Graham Beattie, Beattie's Book Blog (unofficial home page of the New Zealand book community)

Janet Frame Mural in Dunedin's Octagon

A portrait of Janet Frame features in a new mural painted in a lane off Dunedin's Octagon between the Hoyts Cinema building and the Dunedin Art Gallery complex. The mural was painted as part of the recent Otago Festival of the Arts, and portrays the different cultural strands that are prominent in the Otago region, including references to Maori, Scottish, Chinese and Lebanese heritage. The mural was designed by Daniel Mills and his aim was to "weave together images of industry and culture" and to "reflect the diverse and unique fabric of Dunedin and Otago, migration and integration, camaraderie and tradition, poetry and education, gold dust and newsprint".

Dunedin mural artists Filipa Crofskey and Daniel Mead assisted with the painting of the mural.

Janet Frame was born in Dunedin in 1924 and died there in 2004.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

6 months on the top ten bestseller chart*

Fun with graphs: the first 13 weeks on the top ten

The book of new short stories by Janet Frame is certainly finding favour with book buyers, having featured prominently on the Nielsen BookScan weekly bestseller list from its first publication on the 25th of July this year (making a debut at #7 after only a couple of days on shop shelves).

The other titles that accompany Gorse is Not People on the top spots of this list include vigorously advertised genre fiction titles as well as books that unlike Gorse are sold at discount warehouses, so this success for the Janet Frame volume is really quite astonishing given that there has been such low key promotion for it and a discernible reluctance on the part of some book media gatekeepers to even acknowledge its existence. We're not sure why so many book review pages have not treated the release of this superb collection of new stories as the major literary (and culture history) event that it obviously is. Perhaps they mistakenly believe it to be a back list selection? But it is heartwarming to note that the reviews - when they come in - have almost invariably been rave reviews noting the high quality of the stories, most of which have never been seen before.

Best of all, it must be word of mouth about the freshness, relevance and readability of the stories in Gorse is Not People that is working to make this such a popular NZ fiction title.

UPDATE (2013):

Gorse is Not People gained a place on the top ten NZ Fiction bestsellers list for the whole of 2012.

* It spent over 6 months on the Nielsen top ten and still makes intermittent appearances on the chart.

Janet Frame books from Bill Brown's estate

Collectors of Janet Frame first editions and association copies may be interested to hear that a selection of signed and inscribed Frame volumes has been acquired from the estate of her close friend Bill Brown by an Australian bookseller.

Visit the Badger Books Australia website to download their September 2012 catalogue which lists the books and in most cases also provides images of the front covers and the inscriptions.