Wednesday, December 5, 2018

An Anthology of VMC Introductions

Writers as Readers, the specially issued VMC40 anthology of introductions to Virago Modern Classics, is a wonderful read in itself, with the essays written by:

Margaret Drabble | Beryl Bainbridge | Angela Carter | Maggie O'Farrell | Elizabeth Jane Howard | A.S. Byatt | Penelope Lively | Sarah Waters | Jonathan Coe | Diana Souhami | Jilly Cooper | Elizabeth Bowen | Mark Bostridge | Alexander McCall Smith | Sarah Dunant | Rachel Cooke | Zadie Smith | Anita Desai | Sophie Dahl | Clare Boylan | Paula McLain | Diana Athill | Marina Lewycka | Claire Messud | Michèle Roberts | Simon Russell Beale | Amanda Craig | Hilary Mantel | Elizabeth Taylor | Ali Smith | Linda Grant | Jane Gardam | Julie Burchill | Carmen Callil | Helen Oyeyemi | Marian Keyes | Nora Ephron | Sandi Toksvig | Kate Saunders

Writers as Readers is a celebration of forty years of the Virago Modern Classics list.

"Started in 1978, Virago Modern Classics is dedicated to the rediscovery and championing of women writers, challenging the often narrow definition of 'classic'.

In this collection, forty of the most significant writers of the past century tell us about one of their favourite writers by introducing books from the Virago Modern Classics collection, offering a glimpse at the treasures that have been published over the past four decades: they may be great works of literature; they may be wonderful period pieces; they may reveal particular aspects of women's lives; they may be classics of comedy, storytelling, diary-writing or autobiography."

Writers as Readers includes the introduction Michèle Roberts wrote for Janet Frame 's The Daylight and the Dust, a collection of the best of her short stories.

Virago Modern Classics 40th Anniversary

This year Janet Frame publisher Virago Press has been observing the 40th anniversary of its Virago Modern Classics imprint: 1978-2018. To celebrate, they have published "a baker's dozen of stunningly designed deluxe paperbacks by some of our most-loved authors". The list includes Janet Frame's novel Faces in the Water, introduced by Hilary Mantel.

Perks of the job: this delicious haul of VMC40 promo material (cotton book bag, postcards, bookmarks, catalogue) arrived in my post box along with the VMC40 special edition of Faces in the Water by Janet Frame and Writers as Readers, an anthology of forty VMC introductory essays.

The other authors in the VMC 40 edition include Nora EphronMuriel SparkElizabeth TaylorRosamond LehmanAngela Carter, and Janet Frame's friend Grace Paley.

Our Wāhine: Janet Frame

Janet Frame

Artist: Kate Hursthouse

Our Wāhine is an illustrated history of New Zealand’s extraordinary women created by New Zealand artist Kate Hursthouse (

"To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women’s suffrage in New Zealand, Kate will be illustrating extraordinary women from New Zealand’s history. The text is being researched and written by Kate’s mother Karen Brook. This passion project is done after hours with no funding and aims to create a visually exciting and accessible overview of the role of New Zealand women throughout history."

I love this image of Janet Frame because it avoids the stereotype that the occasional artist can fall into, of making their illustration resemble the actor Kerry Fox who played 'Janet' in the Jane Campion movie more than it looks like the real life Janet - who did live a happy fulfilling life and did grow old and wasn't by any means perpetually tormented.

An examplar of respectful quotation

Goodbye, Cruel by Melinda Smith (Pitt Street Poetry, Australia 2017)

I'm happy to recommend this book by Canberra poet Melinda Smith, who is a previous winner of the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Award for poetry. To learn more about the poet and the book, have a look at the excellent launch speech by John Foulcher.

"Smith’s newest collection is in part a paean to life even as it elegises several deaths. However, her primary concern is the binary opposition of scribing and erasure. She uses erasure to great effect in poems such as “Darkling with temazepan” (44), her version of “Ode to a Nightingale” and, through her inking and inscription, Smith forges a connection with the dead whom she memorialises and the living who read her work. That connection may be tenuous, a thread as short and slender as a line of poetry, but it is a link nevertheless, and one of great importance. This book is the work of a vivid, vitalic voice in Australian poetry." (from the Pitt Street Poetry website).

In Goodbye, Cruel Melinda Smith has cleverly and movingly drawn from excerpts of poems by Janet Frame for two of her poems. Before she published this book she  asked permission of the copyright owners (the Janet Frame Literary Trust).  I'm glad she did because it has been good to get to know Smith's work. 

It's always gratifying when an author does the right thing and asks permission (if a work is still in copyright) and also clearly indicates the source of the text they quote, enhance, chop up, play with or otherwise utilise for their purpose of following their own poetic vision.  

Conversely, it is disappointing to come across, as I do now and then, examples of Janet Frame texts used for 'erasure' or other exploitative poetic formats without the Janet Frame copyright being properly acknowledged.

I wish that more of the creative writing schools in New Zealand would teach the basics of professional ethics and copyright law, surely it isn't so difficult! 

A tasty smorgasbord of poetry

Poems from the Pantry: 135 years of food in poetry from New Zealand, 1863-1998 is an anthology of New Zealand poems that are either about food or that use food as imagery.

It is styled after the iconic Kiwi recipe book the Edmonds Cookery Book. It's even arranged in sections such as: 'Puddings and jellies', 'Bread, buns and rolls', Cakes and biscuits', 'Eggs' and so on.

Edited by Judith Haswell and Janny Jonkers. Ordering and other details on the website.

The included authors comprise a Who's Who of New Zealand poetry. Because the editors imposed a time limit ending in 1998, Janet Frame's posthumously published poetry wasn't considered for inclusion, but there is a piece of hers there from The Pocket Mirror (1967).

Happy snacking!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Playing the thought-game

Jess Berentson-Shaw
BWB texts (2018)

Here is another of those Bridget Williams Books "short books on big subjects from great New Zealand writers" that I have talked about before, because so many of them either quote Janet Frame and/or otherwise name-check her.

This book is about as topical as it can be, about being able to distinguish between good information and misinformation, and being able to communicate constructively about the gaps between.

 The author of this recently published book has employed a relevant quote from Janet Frame in a chapter discussing how to encourage and develop critical thinking.

Janet Frame wrote so profoundly and so profusely on a vast range of topics and it's good to be reminded that her writings are appreciated as a rich historical and sociological resource as well as a literary one.

"Unless we have the courage to use our inherited human riches to name, name, name things visible, things invisible, in our land, to play the thought-game from time to time, to raise a few more rich fat dreams and poems and get a fair price for them, we’ll be spiritually hungry and poor; we may not even survive."
~ Janet Frame

(from 'This Desirable Property', a talk broadcast on New Zealand YC radio stations and published in the NZ Listener, 3 July 1964, reprinted in JANET FRAME IN HER OWN WORDS)

Monday, December 3, 2018

More Janet Frame Quotes

Support Your Local Bookshop

Such an impressive shelf of Janet Frame fiction at the Paper Plus store in the Golden Centre Mall in Dunedin's main shopping precinct, George Street

Frame's autobiography omnibus An Angel at My Table is shelved in the non-fiction section, naturally!

Role model for the aspiring author

Many an aspiring author has been inspired by the words and the example of Janet Frame and Annabel Wilson is an 'emerging' New Zealand writer who has acknowledged Janet Frame as one of her influences in her ambitions as a poet and playwright. Wilson has written a play called Todo Verano based on her own holiday in Ibiza during which she was accompanied by a copy of Janet Frame's autobiography relating her own experiences on that island. In the play a character based on 'Janet' appears as a muse. Wilson has also published Aspiring Daybook, a volume of poetry covering the period of her return to New Zealand.

Poems by Annabel Wilson
Submarine, Mākaro Press, 2018

Janet Frame, Wool Lover

Janet Frame on a train
wearing a woollen crocheted hat that she made herself
Photo: Pamela Gordon

A new online journal called THE WOOL LOVER "dedicated to the wonder fibre wool" has recently been launched and it includes an excerpt from Janet Frame's novel Living in the Maniototo in the first issue.

"Janet Frame’s novels and autobiography capture an artistic sensibility attuned to the vulnerability and yet resilience of our world and humanity in the 20th century. This excerpt from her 1979 novel Living in the Maniototo also manages to weave the cultural value of woollen blankets to New Zealanders into the text."

Literary hobnobbing

David Eggleton, Derek Schulz, Jill Studd, Pamela Gordon 
(Photo: Lindsay Rabbitt)

This week I attended an event in Dunedin celebrating the winners of the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. In my role as Chair of Janet Frame's charitable trust I make a special effort to keep up with and support the activities of the other local literary trusts and The Caselberg Trust is one of these: they do fine work as you can see if you peruse their website. David Eggleton was the 2018 judge of the competition entries and he awarded the first prize to Derek Schulz who travelled to Dunedin to accept his award and read his winning poem 'You Can't Be Here'.

It was a surprise and a joy for me to meet up with Derek Schulz and his partner Jill Studd again after many years. Derek and Jill were close friends of Janet Frame's back in the 1970s and early 1980s when we all lived in Whanganui. We reminisced about the times we all (including Janet) attended public protests against the 1981 Springbok rugby tour and the team's visit to that town. Not an easy thing to do in the provinces. It was heartwarming to hear Derek and Jill refer to Janet as "Jan" which was her nickname among intimate family and friends. So many of Janet Frame's chums are gone now, sadly, but not all of us!

Janet Frame portraits by Frith Wilkinson

I was captivated when I first saw this image of Janet Frame by artist Frith Wilkinson. Gorgeous.

Apparently available as a greeting card!


Frith Wilkinson 2017

watercolour on archival paper

with frame 340 x 400 mm

painting 110 x 170 mm

N.F.S Frith Wilkinson collection

'The Third Place' (Janet)

Frith Wilkinson 2017

watercolour on archival paper

frame 300 x 280 mm


Nigel Brown painting inspired by Owls Do Cry

A 1997 painting ex the artist's collection referencing Janet Frame's novel Owls Do Cry was hung at Diversion Gallery in July 2018 in an exhibition entitled Matariki Ta Te Manawa as part of Matariki Festival in Picton.

"Stylistically unique, but a distinctive portrait - Nigel Brown's homage to icons both literary and environmental. Just a touch of gilt to that wonderful red hair, beneath a golden moon." - Diversion Gallery Facebook Page

Click this link to see another fine painting inspired by Janet Frame that was donated by Nigel Brown to the Eastern Southland Art Gallery at Gore.

Nigel Brown has new work in an exhibition 'Organic Thinking II' currently showing at Diversion Gallery in Picton until 15 December 2018 as part of his series 'Climate of Change' on themes of sustainability and social issues.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Wayne Youle Pop Art Portrait of Janet Frame

This Wayne Youle 'Pop Art' portrait of Janet Frame is based on a Jerry Bauer photo and appears in a travelling exhibition entitled Strangely Familiar: Portraits by Wayne Youle.

From the catalogue:

Curated by Helen Kedgley.
Strangely Familiar: Portraits by Wayne Youle showcases bold, compelling portraits of New Zealand art-world personalities including musicians, poets, writers and artists such as Colin McCahon, Rita Angus and Len Lye.
For this new exhibition, Wayne Youle, like many other artists of his generation, looks to Pop Art for inspiration with the bright, saturated colours, hard-edged style and appropriated imagery of his portraits. Wayne Youle is one of New Zealand’s most significant and influential mid-career artists. In this exhibition, he takes the portrait and reinvents it, demonstrating how portraiture can assert itself as a viable and relevant art form today.
Curator Helen Kedgley describes Youle as “A versatile and prolific artist who wants to create a whakapapa of New Zealand artists, past and present, who have shaped our culture in some way. His work is direct, fresh, accessible, often funny and always provocative”.
Wayne Youle was born in Porirua in 1974 and is of Ngapuhi, Ngati Whakaeke and European descent. He was the recipient of the 2010 Rita Angus Residency and the SCAPE Artspace artist-in-residence, Sydney. He now lives and works in Amberley, north of Christchurch. He is represented by {Suite}, Wellington.

The exhibition was developed and toured by The National Portrait Gallery/Te Pukenga Whakaata

Australian reprint of Janet Frame's autobiography

A refreshed Australian edition of Janet Frame's complete 3-volume autobiography was published earlier in 2018, now under the Penguin imprint.

In addition several other major Janet Frame titles are available from Penguin Australia as paperbacks or as ebooks:

  • Janet Frame in her Own Words
  • The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Stories
  • Faces in the Water
  • Living in the Maniototo
  • Towards Another Summer
  • An Angel at My Table (the Complete Autobiography)

See the complete list of Janet Frame titles available from Penguin Australia on their website.

Janet Frame VMC editions now available in NZ

Good News!! These Virago Modern Classic editions of key Janet Frame titles are now distributed in New Zealand through Hachette NZ:
  • Towards Another Summer, 
  • The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Short Stories, 
  • Faces in the Water, 
  • An Angel at My Table: The Complete Autobiography, 
  • Living in the Maniototo.
Affordable good quality paperbacks with brilliant and insightful introductions from illustrious Janet Frame aficionados such as Hilary Mantel and Jane Campion.

Available at all good booksellers. If they don't stock Janet Frame, please ask them why!

Janet Frame poems in Spanish journal

 A selection of 15 of Janet Frame's poems in Spanish translation have been published in Spanish literary journal Palimpsesto 33 (Seville, 2018).

The day Lottie died

Grandma Lottie Clarice Frame née Godfrey was born on the 29th of February 1892. She grew up in Picton and as a young girl she worked as a housemaid in Katherine Mansfield's grandmother's house. Katherine - also just a girl - came to stay for the holidays and Lottie met her, forming a fond impression. I like to think KM got the name 'Lottie' that she uses in her fiction from meeting Grandma, and maybe she also drew on the real Lottie as a character for a walk-on part in some of her portrayals of the servant class.

Grandma died on this day in 1955, on Friday the 2nd of December. Janet was living in the hut at Frank Sargeson's place and made the mistake of crying and being generally upset on hearing of her mother's death. This was of course pathologised by the patronising men around her. If you have been given a psychiatric label, however wrong the diagnosis is, then nothing you ever do is interpreted as normal, even though grief is normal.

Janet often remarked on this dilemma. Everything she did was open to being interpeted as 'mad' or 'odd' or 'weird' by people who approached her with this expectation. People who could behave in a similar way and would themselves not welcome being called 'disturbed' for it.

To this day Janet's former friend CK Stead, the very epitome of an arch frenemy, will tell you Janet was 'forever' crying in those days. 

When he doesn't suddenly remember how witty and quick and what fun she was. 

It is easy to trace the inconsistencies in Karl Stead's pronouncements about Janet Frame over the years. He has contradicted himself so much, depending on whether his present aim is to belittle her (presumably he is envious of her success having vastly eclipsed his modest reputation) or to boast about having once been close to her.

"Today is the day mother died..." Janet and Mum used to say every year on the 2nd of December and so even though I never met my grandmother, I still can't help observing her anniversary. Lottie's influence was strong in my life both through the combined oral histories passed down by my mother and my aunt and of course through the written word - Janet's writings and Lottie's poems.

Janet wrote in her autobiography about the day Lottie died and how jealous and angry she was that her sister June had heard the bad news first:

"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."

Janet was at that time living and working at Frank Sargeson's hut during the week and then staying with June and her young family over the weekends. That one weekend, just after her mother died on the Friday, was one of the rare occasions when Janet chose to stay at Frank's place for the weekend and not go to June's place. She was grieving and she was mad at her sister and the rest of the family for having sent her the news of her mother's death second-hand, and she didn't want to go to their place. It was a rare falling-out between my mother and Janet, and it was brief.

You do cry when your mother dies, and families often go through turmoil and there are recriminations and old rivalries surface.

Janet was mad, mad=angry. In that generation the word mad meant angry more than it does now. And she didn't want to see anyone. And she wrote a note to June and to Frank to the effect that she was mad and not coming out that weekend. Not coming out to see June, not coming out to see anyone. Staying in the hut. Grieving.

Janet had overheard Frank and his acolytes sniggering about the 'mad girl' in his garden so her choice of the word 'mad' for 'angry' was a typical one for her, rhetorically and linguistically. Many of the things Janet said were well over the heads of slow-thinking people or dullards and they often mistook her meaning. I saw that many times. She wasn't crazy but she could be mean, and she did play with people that way sometimes. She just couldn't help saying something that had several valid meanings simultaneously, and most of us only grasped one or two levels. She relished Frank Sargeson's company because he at least could get the literary allusions and they enjoyed a marvellous banter. Janet was a quick thinker and had a scintillating wit and Sargeson and Stead are both on the record testifying to that fact.

It's actually hard for a genius like Janet Frame to find soulmates and compatible people that she could even converse with in a satisfying way, without them thinking she was odd, and New Zealand was a small pool for someone like Janet. Katherine Mansfield and Frances Hodgkins both fled and never returned to New Zealand for similar reasons I guess. Janet knew she was misunderstood in her own country but her love for it kept drawing her back. She also had an extra compassion and empathy that meant she was able to communicate easily with a wide range of people from different backgrounds.

Now Frank Sargeson kept that note and it is in his archived papers, and some fools have used their knowledge of this note where she said she was mad for decades to whisper that the 'truth' about Janet has not yet been revealed! There is a smoking gun! They claim that she admitted she was 'mad' despite publicly having denied having the various diseases and disorders and conditions she has been misdiagnosed with over the years by total strangers, based on her fiction and on malicious gossip and just on stupidity.

Oh how those (mostly) men have spluttered with the frustration of not being able to flourish the 'evidence' that Janet wasn't misdiagnosed after all, she was as mad as a hatter! And said so herself!

Copyright law forbids the use of the wording of the unpublished note without legal permission, but the Sargeson 'mafia' have in all sorts of ways hinted at its existence over the years. More fool them, for being as thick as pigshit and missing a simple and desperate pun.

The day after we buried Janet's ashes in the family grave at Oamaru, I had an urgent request from the archive holding the Sargeson papers, to allow a film crew to photograph that note, specifically.

It seemed like the vultures had been waiting until Janet had died.

The misogynist men of NZ Lit had always resented the 'rehabilitation' of Janet Frame from the diagnosis of schizophrenia. They preferred being able to put her in the 'mad' box where her "flashes of brilliance" (CK Stead) didn't outshine their own presumably more rational scribblings. 

And that wasn't the last time I have had to refuse permission for that small scrap of paper to be used or misused, more likely. Out of all the great archive of Janet Frame, that note has been the most requested. One curator wanted it to be on display at an exhibition - out of all her great work, the scrap of paper that said "I am mad" was what they felt the public should see.

How advisedly Janet Frame gave her mantle of literary executor to someone she trusted to discourage the misuse of biographical scraps which can be made to fit any agenda. It is the oeuvre as a whole of a great author that is their testament and Frame's body of work tells the truth about her. One angry or distressed note is no evidence for anything.

It takes a really loathesome person to not care for moral law, and indeed it was Frame's nemesis Professor Patrick Evans in his play Gifted who deliberately flouted Janet Frame's moral rights by having a naive actress besmirch Janet's memory by wearing a sign that trumpeted "I AM MAD" as though the real Janet really said that and meant what Frank and Patrick hoped she meant unironically.

A Contemptible Literary Hoax: Stage Prop from Professor Evans' Revenge Fantasy Play

Some people aren't very good at irony. This story indicates really how weak-minded but how malevolent the Evansian crusade is, and how ignorant his minions are. But what fun, what a jape it is, to kick a great woman in the teeth and revile her and reject her own witness and deny the truth of her own life story, steal and twist her history and exploit it for their own gain.

The great misogynist battle, and in the 21st century it is alive and well, 125 years after women first gained the right to vote in New Zealand. The co-opting and twisting of the narrative of Janet Frame's life is an unresolved feminist issue.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Suffrage Banner Honours Janet Frame

An embroidered women's suffrage anniversary banner honouring Janet Frame was unveiled this week on the 28th of November at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin to commemorate 125 years since the day New Zealand women first cast their vote. 

The Janet Frame banner joined another five banners dedicated to eminent Dunedin women that had been produced in 1993 to mark the centenary of Women's Suffrage. The banners were devised and created by members of the Otago Embroiderers' Guild and are currently on display at the Museum as part of an exhibition called Suffrage & Beyond

One of the earlier banners features Dr Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first female medical graduate, who was the doctor who delivered Janet Frame in 1924 at St Helen's Hospital in Dunedin.

Dunedin City Council CEO Sue Bidrose (left)  invited me, as chair of the Janet Frame Literary Trust, to join her in unveiling the Janet Frame banner. Sue Bidrose is the DCC's first female chief executive, and in a keynote speech later in the evening at the final Suffrage 125 event for 2018, she remarked on the fact that even though it is 125 years since women first won the right to vote, women are still celebrating "firsts".

The suffrage banners will be on display at the Suffrage & Beyond exhibition until July 2019.

Go Girl Makes Good

GO GIRL by Barbara Else was published in April to much applause and a warm welcome. There had been a yearning for "New Zealand's answer to Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls" and GO GIRL made the grade. It fled off the shop shelves and into the hands of many, many grateful girls, families, teachers, librarians, and is still selling strongly (another Christmas gift idea!)

Small town girl made good Janet Frame is there in this volume with the other can-do girls who became successful women. Janet is reading the book prize she won at school: Boys and Girls who Became Famous, and she is dreaming of being a famous poet. This is a true story! That book is now on display at the North Otago Museum in Oamaru!

Can you imagine how many youngsters who read Go Girl now, will go on to be famous themselves just like Janet Frame did, by following their dream no matter what it costs them?

Illustration of Janet Frame by Sarah Wilkins

Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women 
By Barbara Else (Puffin, 2018)