Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Larger than Life

Kerry Fox as Janet

Janet Frame

Janet Frame (1963)


The real Janet Frame (aged 65 years) with the three Janets who played her up to the age of 40
(publicity postcard)
Janet Frame (second from left) and her three sisters
"Until Jane Campion's film I was known as the mad writer. Now I'm the mad fat writer" ~ Janet Frame

"Early on, for example, we are shown too much of Janet's being fat -- simply (or so it seems) to show us how sensitive and vulnerable she was. Campion should have established more quickly more reasons for us to care about Janet." Review, Baltimore Sun

It has been recognised that Janet Frame was portrayed as fat in Jane Campion's film adaptation of her autobiography. This stockiness contributes to the desired impression of Janet as socially maladjusted, shy, and embarrassed about her physical appearance. It was a brilliant strategy for Campion to use fatness as an easily interpreted visual metaphor for Frame's sense of being 'different' and of not fitting in socially. In her autobiography Frame attributed her sense of alienation partly to the conflict between her ambitions and her lower class origins, partly because she was a fish out of water in a superficial and anti-intellectual environment, and partly for physical reasons, for example, being teased mercilessly about her unusually red fuzzy hair, or because she had poor hygiene or dental health or couldn't afford to dress well (these relate back to her social class and relative poverty). It's easier to understand that a fat girl will be bullied and ostracised than that this will also happen to an uppity and impossibly smart working class girl who spends much of her time reading, writing and thinking, and who doesn't know her place.

Kerry Fox, the actor who played the adult Janet, has frequently claimed in media interviews that she deliberately gained weight by overeating in order to play the role of 'Janet' with more realism:

"She wore a vast orange wig, gained two stone, stained her teeth and delivered an astonishing performance as Frame that won her two awards and rave reviews at that year’s Venice film festival. Yet she says the nature of the part meant she wasn’t inundated with offers. ‘They imagined I was some sort of weird fat girl in a cardie.' " (Daily Mail interview, 2009)

In fact, Frame was not 'overweight' in her childhood or indeed until long after the age forty when the film ends with Frame's triumphant return to New Zealand as a "world famous author" in 1963 (when she was not quite 40 years old). As you can see by the pictures above. Frame is described in her youth by most witnesses as 'athletic'. She was a keen tramper and very fit. As Frame approached late middle age she became plump, as many Western women do, developing late onset diabetes.

NZ Film Festival In Beijing

 An Angel at My Table (1990) will open New Zealand on Film: A Festival of New Zealand in Beijing on the 1st March 2013.

An Angel at My Table was adapted by Jane Campion from Janet Frame's three-volume autobiography. It was awarded the Grand Special Jury Prize in the 1990 Venice Film Festival.

For more details see the report in China Daily.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Looking after Janet Frame House

Newly appointed curator of the Janet Frame House Lynley Caldwell (left) poses in front of the former Frame family home at 56 Eden Street Oamaru with Carol Berry, chair of the Janet Frame Eden Street Trust.

The above photo by Jessie Waite was published in the Oamaru Mail 29 January 2013 in an article entitled "Author's house needs help". (Coincidentally the item appeared on the 9th anniversary of Janet Frame's death but this fact was not noted.)

The article did contain a plea for help from the public to fund vital maintenance work at the house, which is open to the public every summer and by arrangement at other times. Here is a link to a secure website where any Frame fans can help out with this worthy cause: Give a Little.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Taught at School

Janet Frame is one of those 'classic' authors who are Taught At School.
Examples of Frame's work frequently appear in text books and study guides all around the world. For instance, her estate has recently approved excerpts from Janet Frame's work to appear in educational texts from places as far flung as Singapore, Germany, India, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, the UK, Australia, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands and of course New Zealand. Janet Frame's writing also regularly appears in school examination papers around the world.
One of the most recent school books containing work by Janet Frame is the pictured Year 10 NZ English study guide. The book reproduces one of Frame's poems in full and takes readers through a fascinating reading exercise with the aim to enhance a pupil's ability to read and respond to such a text.

Year 10 English ESA Study Guide (New edition, 2012)
Authors: Fiona Brownlie, Tracey Lean, Emma Lumb and Pam Ryan
Publisher: ESA Publications, New Zealand
Format: Paperback
Price: $28.95
ISBN Number: 9781877401381
This Study Guide provides a comprehensive coverage of the full year's requirements for Year 10 Students. This ESA Study Guide provides students with the opportunity to improve their language, grammar, punctuation, reading, writing, oral and visual skills with a wide range of stimulating information with notes, examples, illustrations, photos, diagrams, questions and answers.

Janet Frame Memorial Lecture 2013


To be delivered by well known novelist and biographer, President of Honour for The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) Sir James McNeish.

The annual Janet Frame Memorial Lecture is intended to provide an overview of the state of the nation for literature and writing in New Zealand. Sir James’ address entitled Two Cheers for Eccentricity is a non-academic approach to the theme of creative non-fiction.

Sir James will be introduced by Dame Fiona Kidman.


This is a major event on the literary calendar and not to be missed.

When: Monday 11 March
Where: City Gallery, Civic Square, 101 Wakefield Street, Wellington
Time: Starting 6.00pm

Presented in association with New Zealand Book Month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Kirkus Star for Janet Frame's stories

THE KIRKUS STAR is "Awarded to books of exceptional merit" by Kirkus Reviews, and so it was thrilling to see that Janet Frame's book of previously unpublished short stories had attracted this honour in a review for an upcoming issue of Kirkus Reviews (March 1st, 2013). The review is already available online for subscribers to read, but will be viewable by the public in Mid-May 2013 at this link:

The starred review is of the short story collection Between My Father and the King (Counterpoint USA) to be published in May 2013.

"A treasure-trove of stories, from the very earliest she ever published, to work published posthumously, from the late, great Frame."
"A powerful collection."

The same collection of stories was published last year in New Zealand under the title  Gorse is Not People, and has been a bestseller there (in fact after 7 months, it is still featuring on the top ten of Nielsen's NZ Fiction bestseller chart).


Janet Frame books in the UK

(A bite out of a juicy apple: this is the logo for Virago Books, an imprint of the Little Brown Book Group, Janet Frame's main current publisher in the UK.)

One of the big Janet Frame myths is that her work is and has been predominantly out of print or is characteristically difficult to access. I even had a prominent figure in New Zealand's publishing industry say this to me a year or so ago, apparently completely unaware that almost every one of Frame's twenty or more titles were currently in print in fresh editions in New Zealand. The Myth is, it seems, stronger than the evidence for the eyes to see.

I had a couple of aggressive letters recently from the UK, from Kiwi expats who do not seem to have a working knowledge of Google, seeming to hold me personally responsible for what they perceive as the "unavailability" of Janet Frame's work in London bookshops, and the alleged consequent harm to Frame's reputation in the UK being done by her legal representatives..

Such busybodies clearly have no knowledge whatsoever of the current state of the publishing and book selling industries, or in fact of the previous state of it either. And are obviously ignorant of the huge amount of work it takes to get the number of any author's backlist in print that in fact are in print in Frame's case.

In fact the print cycles for Frame's works have been quite regular across the English speaking world, with separate deals in NZ, Australia, UK, and USA. At any one time, there can be gaps in the availability of the backlist but there is never nothing available.

And anyone who expects the entire backlist of a prolific author to be sitting on the shelves of their local bookstore is, frankly, living in fairyland. If you are so keen to see a minor title, visit a library, or get on the internet and call in a used copy or a copy from somewhere else.

There will always be a delay, for instance, when changing publishers or updating previous editions, negotiating contracts and perhaps unpicking previous unhelpful and lapsed contracts before one can rebuild a new publishing cycle.

Janet Frame left a marvellous bounty of unpublished work which her estate has gradually been assessing, editing, finding publishers for, and releasing at the rate of one every two years since Frame's death in 2004. How on earth can this relentless and generous activity, which has attracted extremely favourable review coverage in the USA, UK and in all those dozen or so languages into which the posthumous work has so far been translated, be interpreted as shamefully neglecting to promote the author?

Not to be mollified, a recent review coming out of London's Kiwi expat community made this accusation:

"These publishing arrangements help to deny Janet Frame an international readership, with the result that this fine writer, a major novelist, remains so little known outside her homeland."

There are currently ten JANET FRAME titles in print in the UK.

The UK edition of the posthumously published novel Towards Another Summer was given rave reviews in several UK newspapers and on the radio. I was myself interviewed by the BBC at the time of UK publication several years ago. Frame has featured on prominent British literary blogs, and a radio serial adaptation of her autobiography was recently broadcast this year on the BBC, catapulting sales of her Virago Modern Classic autobiography to quite near the top of the Amazon bestseller list. Frame's poetry has featured in sessions at UK literary festivals and in 2012 a selection of her recorded poetry went live on the UK Poetry Archive.

In November 2012 a formerly unknown Janet Frame story called "Between My Father and the King" was published in a Remembrance Day themed issue of The Manchester Review:

"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’."

In 2012 Frame's chief UK publisher Virago had to reprint several of her books: Towards Another Summer, Faces in the Water (brilliantly introduced by Hilary Mantel) and An Angel at My Table. These have all had several reprints in recent years.

It's true that not all has been rosy for the Frame estate in the UK book market. We have had to witness the sale of illicit surplus copies of outdated or substandard Frame editions. For instance, some new-looking outdated copies of Janet Frame's works found their way into the NZ expat community in London in recent years and were incorrectly touted as having been 'donated' by the publisher. In fact the former publisher had no right to 'donate' any copies. Their publishing rights had been reverted years ago, largely due to the publisher being in default of the payment of back royalties. The Janet Frame books had found their way into the expat community by another means entirely, one which was not made clear to purchasers. But the Janet Frame books were nevertheless advertised and sold to the NZ expat community in London as a 'fundraiser', with several of the titles being in direct competition with the new Janet Frame editions at that time being released in the UK by a new and authorised publisher.

If certain expats now want to complain that they can't find new copies of all Janet Frame's books, they might consider the possible effects of such past actions. Which publisher is going to take a gamble on a Kiwi author when they can see that even the author's expat community will not support new publications by the Kiwi author?

And despite all the challenges, here are the current Frame books in print in the UK:

Towards Another Summer (Virago)

Faces in the Water (Virago Modern Classic)

Living in the Maniototo (Virago Modern Classic)

An Angel at My Table (Virago Modern Classic) (3 volumes in one)

The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Stories (Virago Modern Classic)

Storms Will Tell: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books) Contains the entire text of The Goose Bath and most of the poems from The Pocket Mirror (2 volumes in one)

The Lagoon and Other Stories (hardback and paperback) Bloomsbury Books.

So, there is a good selection of Frame's novels, stories, poetry, and non-fiction, all in print as we speak, and with a handful more under discussion. In the UK there has been a good selection of Frame's work in print since the early 1980s, and most of these editions only came out of print as the new were coming in, in the past decade. So there has been no break in supply of the best of Frame's work, in the UK at all.

Before that, since 1961 Frame's work was almost without exception published separately in the UK (by WH Allen) as well as in New Zealand and the USA.

If you don't find the Frame current editions stocked by your local good bookstore, complain about it to them.

If you want to try second hand booksellers and libraries, you should be able to find older copies of the Frame titles that were published in the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s by the Women's Press, Bloomsbury, Flamingo, Pandora and Sirius: Owls Do Cry, The Carpathians, Daughter Buffalo, You are now entering the Human Heart, A State of Siege, Intensive Care, Scented Gardens for the Blind, Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun, The Lagoon and Other Stories, An Angel at My Table (The Complete Autobiography), The Pocket Mirror.

And of course every single Janet Frame title ever published has been re-released in New Zealand over the past decade and can be purchased over the internet, if the ten titles available in the UK are not sufficient. 

After the Frame Pattern

Two performances this month, on different sides of the world (wintry New York and summery Auckland), have drawn inspiration from the character Thora Pattern in Janet Frame's novel The Edge of the Alphabet.

'Tessa Pattern takes a Picture' by Kelly Nipper recently had its debut performance at MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art).

"I imagined Tessa as the sister of Thora Pattern—a character from a Janet Frame novel. I imagined that Tessa carried a travel journal in her pocket, and secured the sky to the edges of the world. Tessa made pictures in a darkroom wearing a cloth apron, a tool for folding paper, and had a ceramic locket around her neck. Tessa carried a camera and wrote about photographs taken in faraway places."
~ Kelly Nipper

And on Auckland's Waiheke Island, there will be a literary performance on Saturday evening, 23 February, entitled Edge of the Alphabet with a varied programme:

An evening of literary entertainment and fun, based around the theme of a writer’s encounters with language, and with the limits of language. This will include short, dramatic presentations of writers as diverse as Pablo Neruda, Janet Frame and Bob Dylan. Novelist and poet Mike Johnson will explore some of his own encounters with language in his poetry and prose. Actor, poet, and comedienne Sophia Johnson (Shortland Street) will support Mike in the dramatic presentations and read a selection of her own work. Auckland stand-up comedians Logan Kitney and Anthony Wilson will do a twenty-minute comedy slot. The evening will be assisted by some evocative piano work by Hannah Blumhardt.


Monday, February 11, 2013

"just too good to put down"

Gorse is Not people

"Her stories permeate something so essentially, yet elusively Kiwi."

Review in NZ Doctor Newspaper (30 January 2013):

This book was read from cover to cover over a weekend because it was just too good to put down. Gorse is Not People is a posthumously published collection of short stories from literary legend Janet Frame. It is a real treat for lovers of Frame's work because none of the stories have been published as a collection before and some have never even been published at all. The 28 stories span her writing career, with some having appeared before in magazines, journals and newspapers, or read aloud on radio. And some, for one reason or another, deliberately left unpublished during her lifetime, only to be finally revealed in this collection.

The title story was written in 1954 but was not published until 2008, by the New Yorker. It is the tale of a young woman with dwarfism, who, as she becomes an adult, dreams of freedom from the mental institution she has spent her entire life in. It's heart-wrenching. On the lighter side, I particularly enjoyed "Between My Father and the King" and "The Plum Tree and the Hammock", both making their first appearance here.

Frame's portrayal of the world through child's eyes is spot on  and funny.

Who can fault the book? Frame is, of course, a genius. Her stories permeate something so essentially, yet elusively Kiwi. Not in the trite black singlet and gumboots sort of way. She captures something far more real, more subconscious, raw, true and naked. And it's all wrapped up in a nice hardback cover to remain a treasure on the bookcase for years to come. JdM

Gorse is Not People
Janet Frame
Published by Penguin Books
Hardcover, 252pp, $40
ISBN 978043567707

This collection will be available in the USA in May 2013
from Counterpoint Press
under the name Between My Father and the King.