Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gone camping

Janet Frame (front centre)
on a camping holiday with her family,
on the banks of the Rakaia River
where her father enjoyed the salmon fishing.
Summer 1936-37


Monday, December 23, 2013

The first translation of the last novel

I'm delighted to announce that Janet Frame's 13th novel In the Memorial Room and the collection of new stories Between My Father and the King (aka Gorse is Not People) are to be published in Italian translation.

That's the first translation deal for both these brand new posthumous titles.

Another recent agreement I'm thrilled about is with Turkish publisher Yapi Kredi. Janet Frame's novel Faces in the Water and her autobiographical trilogy An Angel at My Table will follow the already published novels Owls Do Cry and Towards Another Summer into Turkish translation.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"so human and marvellous as a person"

The real Frank on the real Janet

‘I love it [The Adaptable Man] , the power of her mind, its range, and the way she creates — a connection with the world one daily experiences of just exactly the right tenuousness. A brilliant girl, and so human and marvellous as a person.'

 Frank Sargeson wrote this to EP (Peter) Dawson on the 22nd of December 1965. The letter is quoted in Michael King's biography of Frame but was not chosen by Waikato academic Sarah Shieff for her careful selection of Sargeson's letters that, although she gave it the title Letters of Frank Sargeson (Random House 2012), was not by any means a complete letters. Nor, unfortunately, was it the comprehensive and revisionist project that would have blasted some myths and stereotypes that have accrued around Sargeson and his relationship with Frame. (Sargeson was briefly Frame's 'mentor' but the tables swiftly turned, as the unexpurgated correspondence between them makes quite clear. And yet one still hears Sargeson referred to as Frame's 'mentor': she is rarely even permitted the status of  equal 'friendship' with him. In fact lately there seems to be a ridiculous trend towards calling Frame Sargeson's protégée.) I see the Shieff Letters as having delivered a politely curated hagiographical view of Sargeson, designed not to upset any applecarts in the conservative and hidebound NZ literary academic community.

One example of what in my opinion was an editing bias in the Shieff Letters is the glossing over of the issue of Sargeson having stolen or copied some of Frame's manuscripts while she was boarding in his backyard hut.

Shieff allowed through into her version of the letters, plenty of demeaning and derogatory commentary by Frank (and others) about Janet, especially from the early years when the "mid century misogynists'" apparently genuinely believed Frame to be hopelessly psychotic.

Clearly it will take more than a generation before the fiercely possessive 'Sargeson Mafia' can let their St Frank down off his pedestal and let him too, be "so human and marvellous as a person".

The Shieff Letters certainly do not conceal the fact that Frank could be, as independent scholar Nicholas Reid notes in his excellent review of Shieff's volume, "a real arsehole".

But despite his own personal awareness of Sargeson's at time Machiavellian influence, even Reid appears to swallow whole the Authorised Version of Janet Frame-as-demented-cotcase that Sargeson so seamlessly cemented into the collective consciousness of NZ Lit, largely by means of his "agonising letters from the middle 1950s about Janet Frame and the state of her mental health".

The reviewers all seem to know that Sargeson could be a nasty piece of work, but when it comes to his sly propaganda belittling Janet Frame and her work (over decades, as it turns out), all of a sudden their critical faculties appear suspended and Frank is treated as if he were the authority on her 'mental state'. His paranoia, his envy, his neuroticism, his tendency to exaggerate, to tease, to lie, none of these are taken into account regarding his astonishing pronouncements about Janet Frame.

No one is astonished. They already *know* all they need to know about poor Janet.

 No wonder she fled the country in fear of her life.

A milestone

The official Janet Frame Facebook page recently reached the 1000 'likes' milestone.

At the time I tried to get a screen shot of the '1000' likes exactly but just missed it:
The fans of the page seem to enjoy the regular updates of quotes, photos and news.

Publisher is out of stock

"poignant and timeless tale"
Here's good news and bad news! Sharp on the heels of my blog post about The Mijo Tree rights being sold to Australia, I learn that the distributor for both Australia and New Zealand is now out of stock, and that the publisher (Penguin Books NZ) will not make a decision about whether to reprint until the new year. 

Unfortunately some bookshops and online booksellers may have already sold out. But there are still plenty of books available in the retail network, so if you want to buy a copy of this beautiful and unique volume, now is the time.

Meanwhile there are another two reviews of The Mijo Tree to add to the roundup of notices in the previous post:

Otago Daily Times:

"a dark and autobiographical fable"

"The themes of love and loss, life and death, innocence and experience are reworked here, but Frame's rich sense of black humour also shines through."

"The stunningly detailed black-and-white illustrations by Cromwell artist Deidre Copeland add significantly to this poignant and timeless tale by one of our literary greats."

Kia Ora, New Zealand:

"Janet Frame's clever fairy tale The Mijo Tree has never before been published. It's a witty, artfully crafted story about a stubborn, thoughtless wee mijo tree with ideas above her station and a circle of friends that includes a valley wind and a rather charismatic goat. The illustrations, by Deidre Copeland, are absorbing in their detail. The story is not for the faint of heart - as with the best fairy tales, it has a very dark centre indeed."


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Mijo Tree takes root in Australia

"a brief but captivating glimpse into a fascinating mind"
The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame featured recently in the Australian Sunday paper the Sun-Herald.
The Mijo Tree is published by Penguin Books New Zealand,
but because there was a strong demand from within Australia, it is now available at all good Australian bookstores and online booksellers.
It's proving to be very popular and would make an excellent Christmas gift for that discerning loved one!
Recommended retail price AUD $21.99
Small hardback
101 pages
Illustrated by Deidre Copeland
With two useful appendices:
an afterword by literary executor Pamela Gordon
and a chronology of the highlights of Janet Frame's career
This is a "darkly magical fable" written by Frame in 1957 when she was living on Ibiza and is among several manuscripts that she hid away to be looked at only after her death.
News and views about The Mijo Tree:
 Vanda Symon's Launch Speech: Bookman Beattie 

"Janet Frame has written a small and perfectly formed fable, but one that packs a punch. It is beautiful, thought provoking, and dark, gloriously dark."

"The illustrations by Deidre Copeland are stunning and capture perfectly the undertones of the story."

Review: NZ Lawyer
"The book is to be enjoyed by adults and mature younger readers alike."
 "The story often brought me close to tears and this before even casting my eyes upon the afterword that explains the reasons for recently publishing this secret work."
"a little fable for adults ... on big things like ambition, suffering, betrayal and hope"
"Go out and buy this book, if not for someone else, then for yourself. Relish its smooth cover, beautiful illustrations and gorgeous language. You will return to it again and again." 

 "The book shows again the breadth of her talent; that she could tell a simple, tragic tale that appears at first to be written for children but becomes a dark allegory for pride, pain, disloyalty and death. It has been suggested that the story is Frame's reflection on the end of a love affair, but that is not the point. The point is that the story encapsulates the emotional reality of the adult world mixing a little bit of goth with a lot of charming animism."

Review (behind paywall): NZ Listener
"It's hard not to ooh and aah at the loveliness of the illustration and design"

"offering something between fairy tale and absurdist allegory"
"a little book of great daintiness and tiny sorrow" 

The Mijo Tree has spent six weeks so far on the Nielsen Bookscan NZ Fiction top ten bestseller list. It currently sits at #5.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Up in lights

On the shelves this week at City Lights Bookstore,
San Francisco, USA,
travelling Kiwi Mr Jim Wilson
spotted two new Janet Frame titles: 
Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories
(Counterpoint Press, May 14th 2013)
"A powerful collection." ~ Kirkus
In the Memorial Room
(Counterpoint Press, December 10th 2013)
"Brilliant." ~ Kirkus


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Another birthday


Portrait of Michael King (1987)

Woollaston, Mountford Tosswill (Sir)

Reference Number: G-709-1

National Library of New Zealand


Year after year the birthdays return, even after our loved ones die. Today marks the birthday of Janet Frame's friend and biographer the late Michael King, historian, journalist and independent scholar. He would have been 68 years old. During the years that he was researching and writing Janet Frame's biography - and afterwards - Michael became a familiar and loved presence in the Frame/Gordon family circle. His tragic death in 2004 along with his wife Maria in a fiery car accident, only two months after Janet had died of leukemia, was a shocking blow to everyone, to the whole country. 

A birthday or an anniversary is a good time to consider the life and the relationships and the achievements of the person we remember. I have a lot to remember Michael by - all those fine books, the TV programmes, our correspondence and his archives - and even the last email he sent me, just as he was about to leave the house on the day he died. But today I recalled that he had inscribed some of his books for me so I had a look at a couple of them, and thought I'd share a couple of those pages with you, gentle blog readers.

The dead have worn out my grief.
I gave it to them to wear,
renewing it year after year
nor was I the sole supplier.

~ Janet Frame (from 'The Dead' in The Goose Bath, 2006)

Friday, December 13, 2013

"to give someone for Christmas"

The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame
Illustrated by Deidre Copeland
Small hardcover 101 pages $25

"a stylishly bound and beautifully illustrated book from New Zealand's greatest writer"

"universal truths for us all - our dreams, desires, failings and hopes - all spelled out in Frame's luscious poetic language"

"You will return to it again and again."

The Mijo Tree has been reviewed by Patricia McLean on the Waxeye Writing Website. It's a thoughtful and informed review, the kind of review any author (or executor) longs to read, where the critic has engaged with the text and the context.

 "The book shows again the breadth of her talent; that she could tell a simple, tragic tale that appears at first to be written for children but becomes a dark allegory for pride, pain, disloyalty and death."

This particular paragraph is one of the best I have ever seen on the way that one of the dominant strands of narrative within 'NZ Lit' continues to pathologise Janet Frame and belittle her work:

"Who could blame her for her reticence, given her suffering at the hands of the psychiatric profession and critics who continue to scrutinise her work for signs of madness? It brings to mind R D Laing's argument that the family is the place where madness is constructed in one individual who is set up to represent the mental instability of its other members. If one could imagine the New Zealand literary community as a family, then Frame is the sister labelled mad in order to conceal the madness of the rest."

I once thought that this patronising NZ attitude McLean refers to, to Frame-as-deviant, on the whole belonged to the dark distant past - with the one glaring exception being the notorious Patrick Evans who has obsessively chased Frame for decades waving a metaphorical straightjacket and gag. Apart from Evans, it was only the malicious gossips amongst the "mid-century misogynists" who appeared to need to assuage their envy of Frame's success by attributing her literary achievements to her "mad genius". Alas, ill-informed misrepresentations of Frame seem to be flourishing right now, along with the churlish jaded innuendo that seeps into the communications of the NZ Lit chatterati and twitterati, so it's good to see some opposition to this cultural cringe emerging!

Despite having had only a rare mention so far in the mainstream media, The Mijo Tree continues to feature on the Nielsen NZ Fiction Top Ten Bestseller List - #6 this week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In the Memorial Room - US release

In the Memorial Room
Janet Frame's 13th novel, and her last novel to be published

US edition released today Tuesday 10th December 2013 by Counterpoint Press.

Coincidentally the 10th of December is a significant day in Frame's career: it was the day in 1952 that the NZ literary organisation P.E.N. signed off on the certificate for her Hubert Church Award for 'the best Prose by a New Zealander' for her first book The Lagoon and other stories.

See my blog post last year commemorating the 60th anniversary of that life-changing event.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"the time between this star and that star"

Deidre Copeland, illustration for The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame
graphite on  card (57 x 70)

Here is a short interview I did with Lynn Freeman on Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday show yesterday (8 December 2013) in which I discussed Janet Frame's posthumous works The Mijo Tree and In the Memorial Room:



Monday, December 2, 2013

A mother's death

Janet Frame's mother
Lottie Clarice Frame (nee Godfrey)
29 February 1892 ~ 2 December 1955
Janet Frame dedicates chapter 23 of her second volume of autobiography An Angel at My Table to the effect on her of her mother's death, which happened while Frame was boarding at Frank Sargeson's place at Takapuna. Frank didn't have a telephone at that time and so Janet's sister June came in person from nearby Northcote to relay the bad news to her:
I was jealous of my sister’s first knowledge of the death, almost as if it were a treasured gift chosen to be given to her, then passed on, used and soiled, second-hand, to me. It was partly a reawakening of the former childhood rivalries in being first to know, to see, the first to embrace the cherished secret; in fact, the rivalry had never reawakened for it had never slept!
I told Frank my news.
‘So what?’ he said, showing his bitterness towards his own family. ‘Parents are better dead.’
Bravely, I agreed with him.
That night in the privacy of the hut I wept, and the next morning, faced with Frank’s scornful reproaches about ‘all those tears’, I explained that I was weeping for Mother’s life, not for her death.

New Zealander of the Year 1957

New Zealander of the Year 1957: Janet Frame
The New Zealand Herald recently celebrated its 150th Anniversary and as part of the commemorations ran a retrospective "New Zealander of the Year" series. Janet Frame was extended this honour twice. The first time was for 1957, the year her second book Owls Do Cry was first published. (Her first book, The Lagoon and other stories, was published in 1952.)

'Janet Frame: Literary spellbinder'

By 1957 Janet Frame was living on the Spanish island of Ibiza and writing the manuscript of her exquisitely tragic fable The Mijo Tree. Just as it has taken 56 years for Janet Frame to be identified as "New Zealander of the Year 1957", it has also taken until 2013 for the fable she wrote in 1957 to be published. The Mijo Tree is one of several manuscripts that Janet Frame did not publish in her lifetime either because she self censored them or in some cases because of spectacularly misguided editorial gate keeping at the time. (Frame was a literary pioneer, ahead of her time, and she was a puzzle to some of her contemporaries.) Frame carefully preserved these manuscripts to be assessed and published after her death.

Penguin Books NZ has recently released a beautifully designed hardback edition of The Mijo Tree, illustrated by Deidre Copeland, including a biographical afterword and a useful chronology of the highlights of Janet Frame's career as one of the great 20th century writers.

The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame (1957, 2013)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review

Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review, Sunday 1st December 2013:
In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame (Counterpoint Press 2013)
This is the second posthumously published work by Janet Frame that has been on the New York Times Editors' Choice list this year!
Editors' Choice New York Times Book Review, Sunday 2nd June 2013:
Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories by Janet Frame (Counterpoint Press 2013)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Memory of the World

At a ceremony in Dunedin this week three documentary collections were placed on the UNESCO 'Memory of the World' Register: the Sir Edmund Hillary Archive, the lyrics and score of 'God Defend New Zealand' and the Charles Brasch Papers.

The Charles Brasch Papers are held by the Hocken Library in Dunedin and include correspondence with his friend Janet Frame as well as many other leading figures in the arts and literary world.

See news report: New Zealand Herald (28 Nov 2013).


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Encapsulating celebrity

Caricature of Janet Frame by Murray Webb
National Library of New Zealand
Reference Number DX -001-567
This quote by New Zealand cartoonist Tom Scott caught my eye a few days ago. It appeared in a Fairfax Your Weekend feature article on his friend the caricaturist Murray Webb:
‘‘I look at him in awe,’’ says Scott. ‘‘He’s as good in his own way as Janet Frame and Lorde and Eleanor Catton. He never quite got the national attention he deserves.’’
Let's hope that the article, written by Diana Dekker, goes someway towards redressing this perceived lack of local attention. But what intrigued me was the trio of celebrity women that Tom Scott compared the artist to. I had linked these three dazzling stars together myself in an earlier blog post: 100% Pure NZ Heroine.
I don't know if Murray Webb has done one of his famous celebrity likenesses of Lorde or Eleanor Catton yet, those brilliant, hardworking and outspoken Kiwi women who have excelled on the world stage just as Janet Frame had, but thanks to the National Library of New Zealand, you can see (above) one of his interpretations of Janet Frame.
Like Janet Frame, Webb abandoned an unsuitable teaching career in very short order: "He empathised with Janet Frame’s solution for finding herself a square peg in a round teacher hole: to walk out the school gate during class, never to return."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"filled with terrifyingly beautiful reflections" ~ New York Times

"This short, funny and often beautifully written novel — completed in the early 1970s but just now being published — provides an excellent occasion for remembering the weird wisdom and genuine talent of Janet Frame, who died in 2004 after a startlingly diverse life."
"The problem with literature, Harry concludes, is that this very nothingness — like the nothingness of the dead writer, Margaret Rose Hurndell, in whose honor his award has been given — is what critics and readers memorialize."
New York Times Book Review, 24 November 2013, review of In the Memorial Room (Counterpoint Press, 2013)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Phantom Billstickers Café Reader Vol 2

The Summer issue of the Café Reader is out now.
Packed full of great reading from the likes of Janet Frame, Gerald Stern, Hinemoana Baker, Bill Direen, Tusiata Avia, David Eggleton - and many more.
Poetry, memoir, fiction. Very cool. And FREE!
There's a short story by Janet Frame and a snapshot of her with a friend at John Money's house in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Reader has been so popular Phantom are having to reprint.
Look out for it at these places:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"The shortest novella in the world" ~ Bill Manhire

Almost a month after its release, The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame has had its first review* from within the New Zealand literary establishment.

At least I think it's a review. It could be the shortest review in the world.

Last night Bill Manhire, former head of the influential International Institute of Modern Letters, tweeted a link to the publisher Penguin NZ's page for The Mijo Tree, prefaced by his comment:

"The shortest novella in the world."

"Is that your review?" responded Victoria University Press publisher Fergus Barrowman, to which Manhire retorted:

"Have you seen it? It's barely a short story."
'Twitter Auntie'** Jolisa Gracewood entered the conversation, saying wittily: "I saw it today at the Women's Bookshop, vying for space with Zadie Smith's new hardback short story..."
And Fergus Barrowman confirmed that he had seen it too:
"I like the paper."
Apparently we are judging books now, by their length. Are fewer than 800 pages not acceptable any more?***
This critique of a shorter text seems particularly short-sighted, or short-memoried, in Bill Manhire's case, since his own Contributor Note in Sport 1 (Spring 1988) states this:
“Bill Manhire's reader-decides novella The Brain of Katherine Mansfield was published this year.”
I have a cherished copy of this work Manhire himself described as a 'novella', and on perusing it carefully I conclude that in terms of its short length, its unconventional narrative, and its subject matter, it is no more or less worthy than Janet Frame's book is of the term 'novella', which is a notoriously slippery handle anyway, often used to define what a book is NOT rather than what it is.
The word count seems very similar to that of The Mijo Tree. Spookily so.
In fact The Brain of Katherine Mansfield could well be a contender for the title of 'The shortest novella in the world'.
Bill Manhire is not the only person to have defined his short episodic work as a 'novella':

“In 1988, there appeared a longer piece of fiction, the novella titled The Brain of Katherine Mansfield..." Imagination and the Creative Impulse in the New Literatures in English, edited by Maria Teresa Bindella, Geoffrey V. Davis (1993).
The New Zealand Book Council also defines The Brain of KM as a 'novella':
"The Brain of Katherine Mansfield: Bill Manhire's interactive adventure novella edited in a hypertext edition by Richard Easther and Jolisa Gracewood."
(Hello! Jolisa Gracewood edited Bill Manhire's novella into hypertext? In 1997? Sixteen years ago! What a coincidence and what a collective memory blank the rigidly prescriptive Twitter conversation**** appears to reveal!)

Small but perfectly formed: three illustrated gems that deserve to be counted among the classics of New Zealand literature: genre bending pieces that blend fiction, poetry, fable, myth and satire. But what do we CALL them?
Gorilla/Guerilla by Elizabeth Smither, illustrated by Gregory O'Brien (Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, 1986) A tiny book of illustrated poetry, 'a whimsical polemic in verse'.
The Brain of Katherine Mansfield by Bill Manhire, illustrated by Gregory O'Brien (Auckland University Press, 1988) Paperback, 60 pages. Author says 'novella'.
Cf. The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame, illustrated by Deidre Copeland (Penguin NZ 2013), Hardback, 101 pages. Publisher says 'novella'.
In March 2011 The Mijo Tree was referred to as 'an adult fable' in a press release in which Penguin announced a three-book deal with the Janet Frame estate. I prefer to call it a fable or 'a fairy story for adults' and nobody from the Frame estate ever suggested that it be called a novella. In fact we demurred initially, but quickly conceded that at over 5,000 words, and because of Frame's treatment of the manuscript, binding it in cardboard covers and tying it with string, and because of the astonishing nature and quality of the piece of writing itself, the term novella is not an unreasonable one. So we gave our permission when the publisher chose to call it a novella. (Not every decision a publisher - or their marketing wing - makes, originates from an author or their estate, and sometimes there is a fight: this is something English Lit academics seem to know very little about.) Penguin doubtless chose the descriptor 'novella' for the purposes of finding a marketing niche for an awkward genre of book. It looks - and reads - like a children's book, but it's not. It's high quality literary fiction, but it's not a novel. It has more substance than a short story. Janet Frame clearly wanted it to stand alone, and as it is so unique in her oeuvre, it deserves to.  'Novella' is a convenient description so that bookshops might have a clue who to pitch it at and where to put it on the shelves.
Exactly one year ago, Bill Manhire had a runaway best seller on the NZ Fiction market, The Moderately Hungry Maggot, "a children's book for adults", a parody on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a small but powerful biting satire on Kiwi society. I bought a couple of them myself. At $18 from the publisher (it cost more in the shops) they made superb Christmas presents.

Was it poetry? Or fiction? Or non-fiction? It sure wasn't a children's book. Does it matter? It was fun, and clever.

I suppose if I were churlish I might have observed that the text of the book with its seven short stanzas "was barely the length of a sonnet!!"
The Mijo Tree, at $25 retail, compares well as a gorgeous object also worth considering as a Christmas gift and a lusciously produced collectible, not to mention its cultural significance as yet another literary treasure from Janet Frame that didn't get past the gatekeepers.

Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant often appears as a standalone publication beautifully presented, loved by children and parents alike. But while we're counting, Wilde's story is fewer than two thousand words in length. About a third the size of The Mijo Tree.

According to Umberto Eco, the world's shortest novel is the Italian "El Dinosaurio" ("The Dinosaur") by Augusto Monterroso:

"Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí."
("When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.")
I find it hard to believe that Bill Manhire, a poet himself, has been caught out complaining about the length of a literary text, especially from as great a poet as Janet Frame, without considering its worth, or even apparently reading it (along with the biographical essay at the back of the book which might have explained to him why this fable has been dignified as a separate publication). It seems particularly bizarre given that he himself has published extremely short prose texts complete with illustrations. 
Surely he was joking: I hope so!
I'm reminded that Janet Frame had something to say about reviewers: "So many gave a clear indication they hadn't read the book." (From an interview with Canadian journal The Whig-Standard Magazine, 1984)

*The Mijo Tree has had an extremely positive notice in NZ Lawyer, and the Otago Daily Times has generously reported on the well-attended launch party held in Dunedin recently. But the silence in the actual 'book world' is deafening. Manhire's tweet gives a clue perhaps to the attitudes behind that. It seems it's still fashionable to ignore Frame, and if you can't ignore her, you're invited to be snide.
** "Twitter Aunties is a term coined by @GoodeyeMcWoowoo for an assortment of loosely connected, literary-minded New Zealand women, and some men, who chatter away online." ~ Gemma Gracewood
*** "Big is beautiful."

**** Literary elder has an attack of the prescriptives (move over, CK Stead!):


Monday, November 18, 2013

Open for the summer season

56 Eden Street, Oamaru, New Zealand
The childhood home of Janet Frame
is open to the public for the summer season
November to April
Between 2pm - 4 pm every day
Phone: + 64 3 434 1656

"Janet Frame’s brilliant particularities" ~ The Rumpus

"Frame’s ability to distill an experience and sometimes an entire life into a few pages was remarkable. Her characters yearn, and ache, and are overtaken by wonder. She was an emotional cartographer of the highest order, one who deeply understood the inner workings of the human heart."

Mary Otis reviews Between My Father & the King for The Rumpus.

 US edition (Counterpoint Press)
"Frame wrote with great emotional acuity about family. She inhabited her child narrators with longing, fierceness, and complexity."
Australian edition (Wilkins Farago)

New Zealand edition (Penguin NZ)


Sunday, November 17, 2013

"It’s one to read, keep close, and then read again, and again."

"It’s one to read, keep close, and then read again, and again."
~  NZ Lawyer (18 October 2013)

This is, I think, the first review of Janet Frame's fable The Mijo Tree. And it comes from outside the New Zealand literary world, and from someone who hasn't read Janet Frame before.

"I wasn’t aware of Janet Frame before reading this novella. The story often brought me close to tears and this before even casting my eyes upon the afterword that explains the reasons for recently publishing this secret work."

I'm always so glad to hear the response from someone who reads Janet Frame before being told what to think about her. I do not think Frame needs to be explained or interpreted. That's why when I was persuaded - reluctantly - to provide a commentary for this glittering fable, I insisted on it appearing as an optional afterword.

For any readers who may have already been exposed to the sexist and patronising narratives that have dominated Frame's story for so long, I do hope my essay encourages them to approach her work with fresh eyes, without preconceptions, and take it at face value.

For Frame's fans, I do hope you enjoy this last wonderful treat!

Published: 23/10/2013
Format: Hardback, 96 pages
RRP: $25.00
Origin: New Zealand
Imprint: Penguin
Publisher: Penguin NZ

"Brilliant" ~ Kirkus Review

"Frame’s sentences are marvels, winding like narrow alleys through hill towns: They open spectacular vistas." ` Kirkus (1 Nov 2013)

In the Memorial Room has secured another Kirkus star for Janet Frame: the second this year! (The first was on Feb 1st 2013 for Janet Frame's story collection Between My Father and the King.)

And what a brilliant review this new Kirkus one is (November 1st 2013).

In fact the last paragraph of the Kirkus review of In the Memorial Room sums up the reviewer's response to Janet Frame's long-lost tour de force in just one word:


The last of the Australasian book reviews for Janet Frame's 13th and final novel In the Memorial Room, released here in May this year, are overlapping with the first of the US reviews for the American edition to be published on the 10th of December!

See the previous post for a link to Kelly Ana Morey's fine review 'The cult of the author' in November's Landfall Review Online.


"her final chuckle from the grave" ~ Landfall Review

Prizewinning New Zealand novelist Kelly Ana Morey has reviewed Janet Frame's In the Memorial Room for the November issue of Landfall Review Online:

"Frame knows how to hit the sweetest spot when it comes to wry and dry, observational humour. People are ridiculously silly and Frame not only knew that but she is the high priestess of the dark art of conveying it with words. And nowhere in her vast oeuvre is it more evident in her last novel, her final chuckle from the grave, In The Memorial Room."

"This is not a novel as has been suggested, about how miserable Frame found the Katherine Mansfield Residency, but rather one based on her years of observation; watching and understanding, and I suspect being hugely amused, by the social conventions and expectations of this kind of strangeness that is New Zealand Literature. How it can eat you alive, spit you out again or even attempt to replace you with a person who looks far more the part."

 "The cult of expectation is alive and well, as are the literary vultures who never read anything, but always mean to. And not only is the satire still relevant, but the writing hasn’t dated either, and that’s Frame’s true genius. In the Memorial Room could have been written yesterday, it’s just that fresh and relevant in the telling."

In the Memorial Room was published in New Zealand and Australia earlier this year (May 2013) by Text Publishing and will be released in the USA next month (10 December 2013) by Counterpoint Press.

Kelly Ana Morey has been in the news this week for winning a Michael King Writers' Centre Maori Writer's Residency to work on her new novel Daylight Second based on the life of racehorse Phar Lap.

Let's do launch.

The launch of Janet Frame's The Mijo Tree was held last week at Dunedin's University Book Shop. Novelist Vanda Symon did the honours in launching the book. She started by reading out a message on behalf of the publisher, Penguin Books NZ.

Katie Haworth, Commissioning Editor at Penguin Group NZ, sent this message:
On behalf of Penguin New Zealand I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have been involved in bringing Janet Frame’s The Mijo Tree to publication. It is an honour for us to be the publisher of such a remarkable work of fiction and such a magnificent example of what makes Frame’s writing some of the richest New Zealand has ever produced.
The Mijo Tree is a fable of vast imaginative scope. In some ways you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the action taken place in a land not too far away from the home of Oscar Wilde’s selfish giant. But of course it’s more individual, more complex than such a comparison allows for. When I first read The Mijo Tree I knew it would never leave me. It’s somehow so terrible and so hopeful at the same time. Of course it’s by Janet Frame and it’s beautifully written. But to say that is hardly doing it justice. Every word is in harmony with those around it. Every seed and branch and gasp of air is imbued with life and vitality but also something more, something allegorical but something more. What that something might be always seems just out of reach and out of sight.
We knew that if we published this we had to make the book somehow feel as precious as the story itself and for this we have the wonderful Deidre Copeland to thank. I know how much thought and love Dee has put into every line of The Mijo Tree illustrations. Every time one arrived in my inbox at the Penguin offices we would gather round a computer screen and collectively gasp. Truly. Dee has perfectly captured the era, the mood, the characters. Visually to read this book is to be lost in an enchanted wood.
In all of this, of course, we must extend our most sincere thanks to the Janet Frame Literary Trust, who brought us The Mijo Tree (and In Her Own Words and Gorse is Not People) to start with. Especial thanks must be extended to Pamela Gordon who has offered her unfailing support and invaluable insights through every step of the process. Her afterword is essential reading for any lover of Frame.
And finally, the biggest thanks of all go to Janet Frame who sat down to write this sometime in 1957. We are very grateful that we are able to finally share such a story as this!


Vanda then continued:
I was delighted to be asked by Pamela Gordon and the Janet Frame Literary Trust to launch The Mijo Tree. I confess it is only in recent years I have discovered the works of Janet Frame. At high school while my friends were busy devouring her works and holding intense lunchtime conversations discussing her writing, I was busy devouring murder mysteries and crime. You are what you read, they say. I came to love Janet through her more recently published works, works introduced to the world through the hard work of the Trust, Towards Another Summer, In Her Own Words, Gorse is Not People and only very recently the glorious In The Memorial Room.

But every time I think I am getting to know her beautiful writing, her humour and wit, her social commentary, that I’m getting a handle on her incredible craft of the language, her ability to poke fun at herself, she throws me a surprise. And she has done it again with The Mijo Tree.

Janet Frame has written a small and perfectly formed fable, but one that packs a punch. It is beautiful, thought provoking, and dark, gloriously dark. I feel enriched for having read it.
Congratulations must go to The Janet Frame Literary Trust and Penguin New Zealand for the exquisite care they have taken with this book. Pamela Gordon’s afterword provides many aha moments. The illustrations by Deidre Copeland are stunning and capture perfectly the undertones of the story. In fact everything about this book is beautiful, from the feel of the hardback cover as you stroke it, fingertips sensing the indentation of the type, and the silky thickness of the paper, to the way the edges are patterned by the illustrative borders. They have taken these wonderful words of Janet Frame and crafted them into a stunning object, something tactile, delicious and a book to be very proud of.
So it is with great pleasure that I launch Janet Frame’s The Mijo Tree into the world – that we release it into the wind and may it travel on warm currents and find the perfect place to rest and germinate in the minds and imaginations of its readers.  

Vanda Symon

We then heard from the illustrator of the book, Deidre (Dee) Copeland who has travelled the world working as an illustrator, teacher, photographer and painter. Major art awards, extensive media coverage and a growing list of patrons have confirmed Deidre as one of New Zealand’s top portrait painters. She was born on a sheep farm in rural Southland and now lives with her family in Central Otago where she paints full-time from her studio-church in Cromwell. She illustrated the children’s picture book Moon Cow by Kyle Mewburn.

It was fascinating and moving to hear about Deidre's dedication to doing justice to Janet Frame's story. And she certainly has!

 To conclude the formal part of the launch I thanked everyone I could think of who had been a part of the coming to light of this, the last of the (complete) unpublished book manuscripts that Janet Frame lodged at the Hocken Library. It went rather like an Oscars acceptance speech:

Thanks to Phillippa Duffy and the staff at the UBS for hosting this launch and for their support for local writers; Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb for all the work you put into these wonderful occasions, and Marcus for helping tonight.

Thanks too to Sarah Thornton who helped arranged this launch for Penguin, who was the first publicist we ever worked with, nearly ten years ago!

Thanks to all of you who have come to celebrate this event: friends, family, booksellers, librarians, archivists, journalists, artists, academics, teachers, students, fans, fellow authors, even politicians (a special shout out to my friend Clare Curran, MP for Dunedin South where Janet Frame's family lived when she was born, and where Janet returned to live out her last years). I'd also like to acknowledge all those people who sent apologies and who are here with us in spirit.

Thanks to the magnificent Vanda Symon for kindly launching this book and congratulations on your most recent novel The Faceless being a finalist for The Ngaio Marsh Crime Awards.

Thanks to the best literary agent in the world, Andrew Wylie, and to his team for their work on Janet Frame's behalf. They believe in her work and they do a fantastic job all around the world in many territories and many languages. Just this week I signed the contract for the first foreign translations for In the Memorial Room and for Gorse is Not People (Italian is the first language off the block this time).

Thanks to Geoff Walker who had the foresight to negotiate the 3-book deal with the Frame estate as one of the last of his many great accomplishments at Penguin NZ. And thanks to Debra Millar who took over the helm and has guided this last book safely through an increasingly stormy environment for NZ publishing.

HUGE thanks to Katie Haworth who led the team at Penguin who worked on The Mijo Tree. She was amazing to work with. Special thanks to Catherine O'Loughlin and Tessa King. Thanks too to Sarah Healey the designer and all the others who played their parts.

Thanks to Deidre Copeland for joining us tonight and for speaking about your beautiful illustrations which everybody agrees are PERFECT. (Your story about looking for the mijo tree had me in tears.) Thanks too for bringing the exquisite original illustrations for us to look at, before they go on to your exhibition at The Artist's Room. It's so good to meet you in person for the first time!

Thanks to the Hocken Collections for being the place Janet Frame trusted to leave her manuscripts. (She made that decision very early in her career, and lodged her first papers there in the 1960s - The Mijo Tree has been at the Hocken since 1970. Janet never wavered from her resolve to lodge her manuscripts at the Hocken Library despite lots of pressure and financial temptation to sell her papers to the Turnbull or to overseas institutions.) So I acknowledge the Hocken Librarians and staff who have cared for her manuscripts over the years, and thanks to Anna Blackman for representing those good people tonight.

Thanks also to the past and present trustees of the Janet Frame Literary Trust especially Prof Lawrence Jones our former trustee who is with us tonight. And of course Denis Harold, my fellow Frame executor, who has been there every step of the way through all the work we have done in the nearly ten years since Janet died. Thank you Denis with all my heart - you are my rock, and Janet's faith in you was well placed.

It has been a busy time for the Janet Frame estate. Sadly, The Mijo Tree is the fifth and last of the posthumous publications from the complete unpublished manuscripts that Janet Frame left at the Hocken.

The collection of poems: The Goose Bath
The two novels: Towards Another Summer, and In the Memorial Room
The collection of stories: Gorse is Not People (aka Between My Father & the King)
And now this fable (some call a novella): The Mijo Tree

That's a lot of work in ten years. Apart from reissuing all the backlist, we have also edited and published a selected published stories (Prizes aka The Daylight & the Dust) and a selected poems (Storms Will Tell), a small volume of letters, and the collected non-fiction (Janet Frame in Her Own Words).

So tonight my heart is full. It's very satisfying to be at this point. It has been sheer joy working on The Mijo Tree and it's a magical, beautiful book. Thank you to everyone who has supported and helped and encouraged us.

The Otago Daily Times gave the Mijo launch very good coverage:


The Mijo Tree is a haunting story about a little mijo seed who longs to live a life of independence, away from the valley of her birth, high on the hill overlooking the sea. She is swept off her feet by a lovesick wind and realises her dream. However this dream becomes a nightmare and she withers, but not before she produces a perfect purple blossom; the seed of new life and hope. It is a fable written by Janet Frame in 1957 on the Spanish island of Ibiza that she bound up with cardboard covers and string as she did with her finished manuscripts, but she never submitted for publication in her lifetime.

* Mijo is pronounced Mee-ho in the Spanish way.