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)