Sunday, November 17, 2013

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.


No comments: