Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Planting a tree at Janet Frame House

Chloe Searle (Chair of the Janet Frame House Trust), Alison Albiston (founding house trustee and expert gardener), Pamela Gordon (Chair of the Janet Frame Literary Trust).

It's winter and the Janet Frame House is closed to the public until spring. A great time to plant trees though! I was honoured to be invited to help plant a cherry tree at 56 Eden Street, Oamaru which was Janet Frame's childhood home.
My late mother June had left a list of the trees that used to be in the backyard of the house. Thanks to a generous gift the house trust is able this year to plant a cherry, an apple and an apricot tree. 
Planting the heritage cherry was poignant for me as it is the 13th anniversary this week of Mum's death.
While in Oamaru I also visited the Frame family grave where Mum and Janet are both buried, and left flowers.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

'Meeting a Character': a short story by Janet Frame

Meeting a Character

A short story by Janet Frame

First published in JANET FRAME IN HER OWN WORDS (Penguin Books, 2011)

I was drinking coffee in a place in downtown Whanganui when I was approached by a middle-aged man who insisted that we knew each other. He sat opposite me without even a polite, May I sit here? and when I denied knowing him he smiled,
‘Of course you do. Remember Maniototo?’
He was referring to a novel I’d written. I wondered if perhaps he had written to me about the book and perhaps I had mislaid the letter and not answered it.
‘I’m not very good at answering letters, I’m afraid.’
‘You don’t remember, then?’
He said his name.
I repeated it. Certainly it was familiar. Then I remembered,
‘You mean you’re . . .’
‘Of course. I don’t know why novelists imagine that as soon as they finish with a character and the book is written and published, that character vanishes or dies. It was fashionable, once, to quote “In dreams begin responsibilities”.’
‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Everyone quoted that vogue phrase. But what do you expect me to do now you’re in Whanganui?’
‘Nothing at all. It was by chance I saw you. But aren’t you curious to find out what I’ve been doing since you last thought and wrote about me?’
‘Of course I’m curious.’
‘Then let me satisfy your curiosity,’ he said, ‘in a way that I know would suit you.’
I looked questioningly at him.
‘Yes. I observed and knew you, also, and I’ve known that you’ve been longing to write one of those stories where the author meets a narrator who then takes over, and day by day (in a long train journey, or over a season of several days as guest in a house — I admit that in the modern age there are fewer opportunities for prolonged narration — perhaps even during a walk of the Milford Track or a Christmas holiday by the beach — O well, however it may arise), the story is told, the mystery solved, whereupon the author and the narrator part company and most likely neither sees the other again until, just by chance, a similar incident of meeting is repeated, where once again the author, curious to know of events since the last meeting, conducive to storytelling, listens once again — in a train, around a fire, on the sundeck of an evening overlooking the beach — perhaps that is the setting you would choose? There’s no escaping a story, you know . . .’
I agreed. The time was between Christmas and New Year, with Victoria Street a waste of tinsel and unbought Christmas gifts gathering dust and insect spray in the shop windows. I had no train journey in mind, nor had I planned to walk the Milford Track, nor was I cut off by storms, nor had I a bach by the sea where I could sit on the sundeck of an evening, looking out over the bay, and listening to the narrator.
‘Perhaps you’d like to come to my place for the weekend?’ I suggested. ‘I’ve a spare room. And perhaps one evening we can go to the pavilion on the beach at Castlecliff and sit watching the sea while you continue the story? It’s the nearest I have to that train journey across the Steppes or even across the Central Australian Desert or even the fourteen-hour journey between Auckland and Wellington.’
He accepted my invitation. He did know as well as I did, how I had dreamed of writing the kind of story he described, the story with the classic treatment and theme, the set piece, like a dance or movement of music.
There was one difficulty, however. Although I did recall his name, I had no idea of his character and actions. I therefore gave him my address, suggesting that he arrive about half-past five that evening (Friday), and everything would be ready for his stay. I then finished my coffee and hurried to the bus-stop in Ridgway Street just in time to catch a Castlecliff bus on the Alma Road or A route, and half an hour later I was home where my first action was to find a copy of Maniototo and look it up — so that later when he knocked on the door I at least knew something about him.

Serbian edition of Janet Frame's Autobiography


The translations of Janet Frame's work continue. Here is the Serbian omnibus edition of her three-volume autobiography AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE, published by Karpos Books.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Janet Frame's Faces in the Water chosen for VMC40 13

This was a wonderful tribute to Janet Frame's classic novel Faces in the Water, to be included in the 13 novels chosen by Virago Modern Classics to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

The anniversary edition, with an introduction by Hilary Mantel is still on sale around the world.

Books included in the VMC 40th anniversary series were: Frost in May by Antonia White; The Collected Stories of Grace PaleyFire from Heaven by Mary Renault; The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter; The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann; Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith; The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; Heartburn by Nora Ephron; The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy; Memento Mori by Muriel Spark; A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor; and Faces in the Water by Janet Frame

‘Janet Frame’s luminous words are the more precious because they were snatched from the jaws of the disaster of her early life 
. . . and yet to read her is no more difficult than breathing’ 
Hilary Mantel 

An Upgrade for Janet Frame's Website!

Official Website for Janet Frame

Upgraded and updated at last. Links available to the publisher websites and info pages for all Janet Frame's BOOKS IN PRINT (in English).

If you have been a previous visitor you may need to refresh your browser.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Six of the Best

There's a new 'Classic' edition of this popular NZ short story sampler edited by Bill Manhire and first published in 1989.
In this case you CAN tell a book from its cover: there are 6 stories each, from 6 major New Zealand authors.
The editor doesn't claim to have chosen the "best" stories for each writer (what headaches and arguments that would have led to!), rather he says he has "attempted to show individual range and development". All the stories are great, though.

The Janet Frame stories are:
Keel and Kool
The Reservoir 
The Bull Calf
You are Now Entering the Human Heart

Good to see 'Insulation' there. It is as relevant politically today as when first published. 'Solutions' is a personal favourite of mine and 'Human Heart' is one of Frame's most sought-after stories internationally for educational exam prep permissions and anthologies. It's a PERFECT subject for student essays.

Six by Six shouldn't just be thought of as a textbook though. As well as the guaranteed reading pleasure, looking through the titles of the stories, there's history as well as story on offer. This is where we have been. Where are we heading?