Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"wonderful character representations"

"a critique of, and commentary on, the sometimes pretentious literary community"
~ from a review of In the Memorial Room (Laura Starling, Critic 22 September 2013)

"More than anything else, this book is about people and their interactions. The observations that Harry makes of the Watercress family are both enlightening and amusing. In the Memorial Room has wonderful character representations, and each character is artfully and cleverly created. Janet Frame really is a wonderful, astute, interesting writer."

Monday, September 23, 2013

'spectacular vegetation of elsewhere' ~ Janet Frame

‘My visit to New Zealand, where I met and married Doris, was a highlight of my life. I loved the green countryside, those forests that do not have the innocent infant green of our springtime woods with their clouds of silken aspen, misted oaks, birches with new light-green wetskinned leaves. Our English trees do flourish there, at home in the shadow of snow-blue mountain peaks and glaciers and in the park-like gardens which each town takes such pride in growing and caring for, even if only (I may be cynical) in the hope that visiting royalty will graciously receive orchids and begonias from the hothouses. In a largely conservative extroverted country where life is spent outside, playing sport, mowing lawns, painting, sailing boats, trimming hedges, and inside, watching television and dressmaking, several municipal dreams are nourished, including that of the prize tropical blooms grown beneath glass, plants of the desert, all the spectacular vegetation of elsewhere; and thus each town harbours its climatic dangers, doomed frailties; the alien, the mistrusted, the envied, the longed for and forbidden. How deprived those towns would be without their glasshouses!'

~ from Living in the Maniototo (1979) by Janet Frame

Cover image above from Norwegian edition published by Pax Forlag, Oslo, 1992.

Celebrated UK Lit Blogger dovegreyreader reviewed the 2009 Virago Modern Classic edition here.

A new German edition of Auf dem Maniototo has just been released by CH Beck:

Some other covers:



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Play misrepresents Janet Frame

Opinion article by Denis Harold
[Screenshot of the ODT's online archive]
Published in the Otago Daily Times (17 September 2013)

The article:

Patrick Evans’ play Gifted that opened at the Fortune Theatre on Saturday suffers from a significant ethical problem. Though the play is fiction, with all the dialogue and most of the events having never happened in reality, yet the three characters are given the names of real historical people. The result of Evans’ deliberate distortion in his play of the facts of these peoples’ lives is, in my opinion, a travesty, especially given that Janet Frame died less than ten years ago.

            The artistic director of the Fortune Theatre, Lara Macgregor, claims that in Evans’ play, ‘There’s nothing but beauty and poetry and a huge love, an amazing use of language’, in an article in the Otago Daily Times (Thursday, September 5). She goes on to state that, ‘What’s imagined and what’s not is so blurred and melded together’, while Conrad Newport, the play’s director, reinforces her admission that Gifted is not factual by stating that, ‘The truth is bent for dramatic purposes’. If therefore the play is not true, why had the actors, according to Macgregor, ‘studied videos of their characters to be more truthful in their portrayals’? Macgregor and Newport are sending a mixed message.

            Janet Frame was a well-known New Zealand author and winner of the country’s most prestigious literary prize when she went to stay at the property of Frank Sargeson, who knew of her incarceration in mental hospitals, an experience that she made no attempt to hide from him or anyone else. Evans deliberately changes these facts: the character he gives the name ‘Janet Frame’ has no reputation as a writer, and the character given the name ‘Frank Sargeson’ does not know of her past history. Many other facts about Frame’s life and character are similarly falsified. Evans creates an imaginary character who primarily engages with reality through bizarre word games akin to cryptic crosswords. This is untrue, and an insult to a woman who was self-directed, ambitious and honest.

            After attending performances of the play recently in Christchurch and New Plymouth, some theatregoers and reviewers have claimed, though admitting they knew little of Sargeson and Frame, that they found the play ‘convincing’. But what convinced them was a self-contained spectacle. The Fortune Theatre has created an advertising campaign that presents a fragmented image of a young woman, girlish in short white socks and with her legs slightly apart, posed in front of a hedge that has a partially oval opening in it. This depersonalised and sexualised imagery is disquieting, and a clue to Evans’ attitude to Frame that is apparent in other of his writings. The real Janet Frame was 31 years old at the time this play is set in, intellectually mature and courageous, having triumphed over almost five years of institutional misdiagnosis and abuse – not a girl.


            Next to the Fortune Theatre’s promotional image for the play are words in quotation marks: ‘Don’t try to change me – I won’t be changed’, followed by the name ‘Janet Frame’. This is a fake quote: Frame never said these words. Evans, who claims some expertise on Frame’s work and life, would know this. This quote should be followed by the name ‘Patrick Evans’.

            The Theatre’s website links to recent interviews with Evans and reviews of the play, but does not link to the interview on the Radio NZ Concert programme Upbeat on August 19 (available online) in which Eva Radich talked at length to Evans about his play. In reply to her question (15 minutes into the interview) about how he interpreted Frame, Evans replied, ‘Well, ahh, we have in our family a much loved autistic person ...’ 

            Radich: ‘Janet of course wasn’t autistic ...’

            Evans: ‘Ahh, everybody I know who is autistic is autistic and not autistic. You deal with the person in front of you.’

            Radich: ‘Janet was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia – that was certainly never an issue.’

            Evans: ‘No. But no, that was the label that we had then.’

            Radich: ‘And the label we have now is autism?’

            Evans: ‘It is, yes. And you take the person in front of you and you can see the vulnerability, the difference, the extraordinary insights that people have who are different in that way.’

            These are astonishing statements by Evans, a revelation that he considered Frame had been schizophrenic, which is a label he now believes has been replaced by ‘autistic’. This is the first time in forty years, as far as I am aware, that he has put statements like this on the record. Under the cloak of ‘nothing but beauty and poetry and a huge love’ audiences are being fed a ‘mad genius’ myth that has been debunked.

            There have long been indications that Evans did not accept that Frame had been wrongly diagnosed with a mental disorder, despite a panel of world-renowned psychiatrists in London in 1957 concluding that she had been misdiagnosed. Evans has often purveyed a catchphrase, ‘the myth of the misdiagnosis’ in an attempt to undermine the fact of Frame’s misdiagnosis.

            Evans’ admission explains why he needed to drastically change the facts of Frame’s life and character in Gifted: the facts do not fit his fiction.
Denis Harold is a trustee of the Janet Frame Literary Trust.
There is an excellent online commentary posted by 'The Observer' after Denis Harold's article, including these observations:
'There is a sort of "theft of spirit" involved here in which a lesser known artist uses the fame and name recognition of a famous artist to graft their own imaginative work onto, riding their coattails to a sort of automatic acceptance and appreciation of their work.'
'The practice also beggars the historical record'
'Kudos for informing the public about the distortions in "Gifted", setting the record straight as befits the duties of a literary trust.'

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Crossing the ditch

The Tasman Sea lies between New Zealand and Australia, and the Australasian slang term for making that journey is "crossing the ditch".
Janet Frame has long received a warm response to her work in Australia. The great Patrick White became one of her earliest and most ardent admirers, and several of her books have had very successful Australian editions. The posthumous novels Towards Another Summer (Random House) and In the Memorial Room (Text) were both first released in Australia and one of the all time bestselling editions of Janet Frame's first novel Owls Do Cry was the Australian Sun Books paperback (sub licensed to Angus and Robertson).
So it's a great pleasure to announce that there is soon to be an Australian edition of Janet Frame's posthumous story collection,
published by independent publisher Andrew Wilkins (Wilkins Farago) who had earlier published Frame's posthumous poetry collection The Goose Bath.
Between My Father and the King
New and Uncollected Stories
Wilkins Farago, Australia
release date: November 2013
ISBN 9780987109972
First published in 2012 by Penguin Books NZ as Gorse is Not People
Also published in the USA by Counterpoint Press (2013)
This highly acclaimed edition of stories was a top ten NZ fiction bestseller in New Zealand for the 2012 year and the American edition has received rave reviews in USA papers. A cover review in the New York Time Book Review declared:
"Frame's writing endures, no matter the place or time."
Jane Ciabattari reviewed Janet Frame's story collection Between My Father and the King (Counterpoint 2013) for the Boston Globe (25 May 2013):
"The late New Zealand literary master Janet Frame’s inimitable voice — poetic, acerbic, piercing — is as fresh now as a half-century ago, when her stories and novels were drawing international attention. The 28 stories in her new posthumous collection are a reminder of her legendary storytelling gift and of the miraculous ways in which her life as a writer evolved." 

"Frame went on to become a groundbreaking author, original in language and subject matter, astute at revealing hypocrisy and brutality, particularly as it arose in lives of women and marginalized people like the patients she encountered during her stays in psychiatric wards."

"Frame’s is an acute vision, attuned to the full spectrum of human experience. The kingdom of her spacious imagination is fully displayed in this collection."
Publishers Weekly picked Janet Frame's Between My Father and the King as one of their 'Best new books for the week of May 13, 2013.'

The PW starred review for Between My Father and the King says that it "showcases her extraordinary gifts as an imaginative storyteller with a singular viewpoint. Frame grasps an image and the emotion behind it in a few spare words."

"These stories—with themes of despair, disappointment, and wonder, underscored by Frame’s melancholy and vivid turns of phrase—are beautifully rendered."
The Kirkus starred review (online here):
"A treasure-trove of stories."
"A powerful collection."
And from Booklist (April 15, 2013) yet another starred review:

"writerly genius in every sentence"
"told with charming and often wicked wit" 
The Christian Science Monitor included Between My Father and the King in their list of 12 promising fiction titles for Spring 2013:
"This posthumous collection ... takes readers from despair to wonder and on to deep meaning, always accompanied by powerful writing."
New Zealand Reviews
(where the collection is called Gorse is Not People):
"Frame's storytelling explodes off the page with the felt intensity that characterises her as a writer."

"It is impossible not to be enchanted by stories like 'Between My Father and the King' and 'The Plum Tree and the Hammock'."

"Is there anyone after Frame who gets into the minds and hearts of children as she does?"

"These stories are sharp, freshly colloquial, funny and poignant."

"Gorse is Not People is a valuable and welcome addition to the Frame canon, reminding us what we already know - how good she was, and how much we need her."

(Lydia Wevers, review of Gorse is Not People in the NZ Listener, 25 August 2012.)
"This is a gem of a book, or rather a string of gems, each uniquely coloured, cut and crafted."
"a surprise present like no other."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Janet Frame Colloquium in London

There is to be a Janet Frame Colloquium in London on the 2nd of November 2013.

Keynote speaker will be highly regarded Frame scholar Marc Delrez, author of Manifold Utopia: the Novels of Janet Frame, who teaches English literature at the University of Liege, Belgium.

The Colloquium is entitled Janet Frame: Ten Years On and is organised by the New Zealand Studies Network.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Schlupflöcher für Träume

Published today in Germany
a new edition of Auf dem Maniototo
(Living in the Maniototo)
by Janet Frame
Translated by Lilian Faschinger
C.H.Beck Verlag, München
16 September 2013
304 Seiten, 19.95 Euro

Reviewed by Deutschlandradio Kultur 13 September 2013:

Schlupflöcher für Träume
Das ist alles so böse und komisch geschrieben, dass man sich freut und sich gruselt und wonnevoll meint, man selber sei ja ganz anders als diese Romanfiguren. Während man tatsächlich enttarnt wird. Janet Frame kennt sich aus in den Labyrinthen der menschlichen Hirne und Seelen. Kennt die Schlupflöcher für Träume und die Wüste der Wirklichkeit.

Es ist ein Buch über das Sein und das Schreiben. Und Frame eine Schriftstellerin, die hellsichtig das Leben durchschaut und mit dichterischen Flügeln aus ihm flieht.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deciding Day

A passage from Intensive Care (1970) by Janet Frame:

Now let me tell you more about this Act of Parliament called the Human Delineation Act. On my birthday, the Deciding Day, everyone will be counted and tested and with all the information gathered the computer with all our history inside it will look at each one and say sharply like a soldier, Human, Animal, Human, Animal, depending on what you are, and if you are human everyone will smile at you and say 'Fine weather we’re having, congratulations,' and you will go free and be able to live in the world as a human being; on the other hand if the computer decides you are animal, how different it will be for you in your future life, for at once they will kidnap you, capture you, and put you in a cage and take you to a factory if you are suitable and they will experiment on you or keep you locked up and stare at you day and night, study you until the situation is more than you can bear. Your legs will wither from not walking and you will be forced to screw up your eyes to see in the dark, blindness will come eventually and death, and if you think I paint a grim picture of what will happen, then I can only say that you who are reading this are lucky not to be living in the time I write of. Do not be deceived — you may be living in it and not know, because two times can live together and the one doesn’t know that the other time is living because if you’re in one time whatever would make you want to think there is another there going on through the light of day and the dark of night? Is your world my world? Do you still have seasons in the year, Christmas followed by autumn when the leaves turn gold and float from the trees until the trees are bare and winter has come with frosts and cold mornings, and then before you know it spring has come round again with the flowering currant. If you have seasons like this then you are living in our part of the world and you will know about our Act of Parliament which sets an example to all other people who love freedom and democracy. Are you preparing for the Deciding? Are you afraid?

Intensive Care (paperback edition, 1990s)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Janet Frame's first words

"I was told that my first words were 'Pick walnut up, Mummy'."
~ Janet Frame, from To the Is-Land
(Autobiography Volume 1)
Janet Frame as a baby on her mother's lap
under the walnut tree at Railway Lane, Outram near Dunedin.
The Frame family lived at Outram until Janet was 2 and a half years old.

Late in her life Janet Frame revisited the walnut tree in Railway Lane
(detail from a photograph by Reg Graham)
There is still a walnut tree in Railway Lane.
Is it the same one?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A sneak peek

The third Penguin Janet Frame Book arrives.
Advance copy time!
Introducing The Mijo Tree:
a fable written by Janet Frame in 1957
on the island of Ibiza.
Janet Frame lodged the manuscript
at the Hocken Library in 1970
to be looked at only after her death.
To be published for the first time
in late October 2013
Beautifully illustrated
Another lovely production from the Penguin Books NZ team!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

True or False?

I was recently reading some commentary on the sad case of the death of David Hockney's assistant, a young man who had a shock of  ginger curls, and I was interested to see that a contributor to the discussion mentioned that the assistant "looked like Janet Frame".

It is widely known - in educated circles at least - that Janet Frame had a wild mane of reddish hair, and people with similar untameable red hair can find themselves being compared to her. I know that some are even given (or give themselves) the nickname 'Janet Frame'.

And apparently almost all a Janet Frame impersonator has to do is don a curly orange wig in order to seem 'authentic'. Everybody 'knows' it's 'Janet'.

But what shade of red was Janet Frame's hair? Was it orange? True or False?

FALSE. Janet Frame did not have the 'orange' shade of red hair, she had the kind of dark red hair sometimes referred to as 'auburn' hair, as noted on the passport pictured above.

(The passport is signed N.J.P. Clutha which was her legal signature after she changed her surname from Frame to Clutha by deed poll in 1958).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

'Poets' by Janet Frame

This poem by Janet Frame is posted today as a tribute to the great Seamus Heaney, whose death this week indeed makes us feel with Janet Frame that 'for a time it seems there will be no more stars'.


If poets die young

they bequeath two thirds of their life to the critics
to graze and grow fat in
visionary grass.

If poets die in old age
they live their own lives
they write their own poems
they are their own might-have-been.

Young dead poets are prized comets.
The critics queue with their empty wagons ready for hitching.

Old living poets
stay faithfully camouflaged in their own sky.
It may even be forgotten they have been shining for so long.
The reminder comes upon their falling
extinguished into the earth.
The sky is empty, the sun and moon have gone away,
there are not enough street bulbs, glow-worms, fireflies to give light

and for a time it seems there will be no more stars.

This poem was one of many that Janet Frame (1924-2004) never published in her lifetime. The only book of poems she released, The Pocket Mirror, appeared in the late 1960s in the UK, America and New Zealand and has never been out of print. Many of its poems have become classics, such as 'The Suicides', 'The Place', 'Rain on the Roof'.

'Poets' was first published posthumously in The Goose Bath (Random House NZ 2006; Wilkins Farago Australia 2008) and in Storms Will Tell (Bloodaxe Books UK, USA 2008).
Janet Frame showed this poem to her friend Landfall editor Charles Brasch on one of his visits to her house in Dunedin, but she refused to let him publish it. After Charles died in 1973, Janet sent a copy of the poem to another grieving friend of his, Margaret Scott. Janet described showing Charles the poem:
That afternoon he asked me what I’d been writing and I was bold enough to say I had written a poem and then bold enough to get it when he asked me to show it to him. This was so unlike me, for I never show things if I can help it.
The poem was about the deaths of two poets, one in youth, the other in age. Charles liked it and suggested I send it to Landfall, which I never did, in fact I've never sent it anywhere. He liked it but he did not think it ‘wonderful’ or anything like that, nor did I, for it’s full of stupidities. We talked then about death in youth and in age, and Charles again suggested I send the poem to Landfall. He wanted people to read it and think about it. I'm sending it to you. I knew it would find its home one day.

The whole of the letter to Margaret Scott appears in Dear Charles, Dear Janet: Frame and Brasch in Correspondence which is a hand printed fine edition published in 2010 by the University of Auckland's Holloway Press.

Since its first publication 'Poets' has struck a chord with many readers, and I know that it has been read out at many funerals. The self-effacing Janet Frame may well have identified 'stupidities' in the composition of the poem, according to her own impossibly high standards, but she was correct in her belief that her words might also bring comfort to those facing the realities of death.

The poem has also been set to music by Jenny McLeod and the song based on it was first performed at the Wellington Festival of the Arts in 2008.