Our top ten things of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival weekend - Saturday and Sunday
It was a treat to be at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 15-19 May. On Friday 16 we shared our top ten things of day one at the festival, and here are our top ten things of, well, Saturday and Sunday:
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1) Words Between Us: First Maori-Pakeha Conversations - Saturday
The archival images that were shown as part of this discussion on Maori and their initial relationship to writing with Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins were a true highlight. In particular the images of 'moko signatures' that were used by some Maori to sign important documents, such as land deeds. The drawn representations of signatorys' facial tattoos on the documents were beautiful and opened a window in time to the early 1800s, with 'moko signatures' sitting alongside the wax seals used by Pakeha.
2) An Hour with Jackie Kay - Saturday
Having heard great things about Jackie Kay's Poetry and Place workshop on Friday afternoon, we were really looking forward to her solo event. After reading several poems, there were clear signs of appreciation from the audience. Kay responded, saying that the 'wee moans' that the audience give at the end of poems are what keep poets going.
3) An Hour with Patrick Ness - Saturday
Ness kicked things off with a reading from his new novel for adults The Crane Wife, and discussed amongst other things the way each of his books is inspired by a song or songs, giving him a kind-of audio touchstone from which to develop each book. There were also some excellent audience questions at this session, including a question about whether YA books in libraries should be kept separate from adult books. Ness responded that he did think they should be separate. If he was a teenager, he said, he'd want his own special section.
4) Christchurch City Libraries blog - the full festival period
There are a great range of fantastic blog posts about festival events on the Christchurch City Libraries blog. We highly recommend you take a look.
5) An hour with James McNeish - Saturday
This was a great session and focused on McNeish's memoir, Touchstones:
Finlay Macdonald: Do you trust your memory?
James McNeish: No.
Finlay Macdonald: Well, what are we [readers] to trust?
James McNeish: Exactly
6) Life goes on: Kate Atkinson - Saturday
The ASB theatre was packed out with Atkinson fans and other curious readers. When it came time for audience questions, Atkinson cautioned us with a tale of the best question she's ever been asked. It was by a 13-year-old boy: 'If you were trapped on a desert island, which of your family members would you eat first?' Beat that.
7) Catriona Ferguson blogs
Book Council CE Catriona Ferguson blogs about New Zealand Literature’s Premier Father and Daughter Act.
8) An Anthology of New Zealand Literature
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this session was listening the the conversation as well as keeping up with Guy Somerset's tweets. We really recommend browsing the parallel Twitter conversation @GuySomerset
Foreigner reading this would have skewed idea of NZ lit, says audience member. Was it for NZer or overseas? #awrf2013
NZers. And it's a *selection*. Anthologies inevitably invite debate. #awrf2013
9) Fifty Shades of WTF
The audience questions at the end of this session on the erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey, chaired by the excellent Nicky Pellegrino, really got the mind whirring. One question from the audience reinforced the need for more sex-positive stories, while also being able to give critical readings of what the stories are doing and saying. Panellist Ellie Catton raised a great question in response to this for us: If it is impossible for any author to anticipate and control how their stories will be read and interpreted, who is responsible for giving critical perspective to the book and engaging a community of readers in a dialogue around the important issues raised?
10) Honoured New Zealand Writer 2013 - Albert Wendt
A fantastic discussion between Wendt and Robert Sullivan, readings by Witi Ihimaera, Bill Manhire and Selina Tusitala Marsh, and live performances were topped off by a very moving standing ovation for Albert Wendt and his inspiring and groundbreaking work.
And a reminder that we have a copy of Wendt’s latest book of poems, From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden, and a copy of the anthology he co-edited Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English to giveaway, courtesy of Auckland University Press.
To enter the draw visit our Facebook Page: facebook.com/NewZealandBookCouncil Draw closes noon on Tuesday 21 May
Our top ten things of the day at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival - Friday
We are very excited to be at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 15-19 May. Here are our top ten things of day one: Friday 17 May
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1) NZ Listener gala night
Let's sneakily jump back in time to last night for the true stories told live gala evening that launched the festival with eight tales on the theme 'An Open Book'. Most of the writers stood centre stage to tell their tales. Sri Lankan novelist Shehan Karunatilaka however stood behind the podium stage right, not wanting to be too 'Lady Gaga' about his performance style. He delivered a brilliant story about how a racy gentleman's 'book' that he found on a Whanganui hill under a tree under leaves in a plastic bag saved his teenage life, leading him on to more books, this time sourced from the public library.
2) NZ Listener on the NZ Listener Gala Night
Enjoy a great summary of all the tales told last night on the NZ Listener website, and take a look at Auckland City Libraries' blog post about the evening too while you're at it
3) Remarkable Women
A lively discussion was had this morning between Meme Churton, Jacqueline Fahey and Aorewa McLeod on fiction, truth, language, mothers, fathers, family and seeking a fitting political and cultural philosophy in life. Clothes and dress also came up a few times. It wasn't all good news though: Churton commented that 'academics in New Zealand [in the 1950s] had good degrees but they dressed worse than peasants in Italy'.
4) Page Turning with Romana Koval
After being provided with a copy of the Kama Sutra by her mother at age 12 (at her own request), Koval first and foremost wondered how she would 'get the camel bone' necessary for mixing her own kohl eye makeup.
5) The Return of Fleur Adcock
Fleur Adcock gave up writing when she gave up smoking. But it gradually came back (the writing, not the smoking). She said: 'Poetry came back when I got used to being a non-smoker and grabbed me by the throat'.
6) Tragic Brilliance: John Nash and Grigori Perelman
We didn't make it along to this conversation between American professor Sylvia Nasar, Russian journalist Masha Gessen, and Steven Galbraith but a Tweet by Shaun Hendy @hendysh made us wish we had: 'Nasar makes maths community sound like slightly quirky branch of mafia.'
7) The buzzing books table at the festival
So many readers browsing and buying books!
8) Words Out Loud
We really enjoyed going along to hear poets Miles Merrill, Courtney Meredith, Ken Arkind and Carrie Rudzinski perform their work. We got to take part too as part of the crowd repeating together after Carrie Rudzinski such things as 'the moon is made of cheese', 'my heart is made of cheese', 'please don't eat my heart'.
9) Catriona Ferguson blogs
Book Council Chief Executive Catriona Ferguson blogs about day one-and-a-half at the Festival
10) Albert Wendt giveaway
Albert Wendt is the Honoured New Zealand Writer at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013. To celebrate his appearance at the Festival we have a copy of Wendt’s latest book of poems, From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden, and a copy of the anthology he co-edited Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English to giveaway, courtesy of Auckland University Press.
To enter the draw visit our Facebook Page: facebook.com/NewZealandBookCouncil Draw closes noon on Tuesday 21 May
Theatre director James Ashcroft on translating Sydney Bridge Upside Down from page to stage
I see no shame in admitting my obsession. I am deeply passionate about the novel Sydney Bridge Upside Down (SBUD), which a mate who works in a book store recommended me back in 2011. I have read it atleast 30 times since. I own two 1968 first edition copies, two 1981 reprints and the three latest versions of the book, which the ever-astute Text Publishing had the foresight to bring back into the world of contemporary literature. And now I have convinced a number of our best professional theatre artists and performers to make a production inspired by Mr Ballantyne’s novel. I have now transitioned from the obsessed to the possessed. But that’s the only reason to make theatre. If it doesn’t haunt your sleep then it’s probably just a ‘good’ idea.
I believe the laws of attraction will always help you connect with the world around you. This was the first time I had read a novel authored in and about Aotearoa that I could personally relate to. In many ways I felt that the author was writing implicitly about my childhood just using different names, places and events. The tone and feeling however were exactly how I remember that transition to adolescence and beyond.
As a theatre maker I am always looking for inspirations that challenge and evolve what traditionally constitutes ‘Maori theatre’. On the surface level SBUD (which we now affectionately refer to the novel as) might not seem like an obvious choice for Taki Rua Productions, and I can’t deny that that was part of its appeal. It will no doubt upset some people, others not so much. Or perhaps it will do something inspiring like the novel did and get people thinking, talking, questioning, provoking. This is our challenge.
The other challenge in bringing SBUD to the stage is that in order to be faithful to the novel we must betray it theatrically. There is no such thing as a straight adaptation (purists beware). We don’t want to simply stand the novel on a stage and turn the pages – you could do this in the comfort of your favourite armchair at home. Our job is to re-invent it through the medium of theatre by inviting you to participate in a live conversation. The production we are creating is our response, our relationship to the concepts that Ballantyne writes. These are what truly made the book ahead of its time; these are what make it an attractive and relevant proposition for contemporary theatre today.
The best part of our working process is that we get to work with people who continually challenge and teach each other to see the world in different ways. This is an inherent function within theatre and tikanga Maori. I think of the novel now as David Ballantyne’s mihimihi to the world: a beacon sending radio waves to like minds to join a conversation about truths he has known to be. It’s an eclectic group of artists that responded the call, people who also find life at ‘the edge of the world’ to be a strange and lonely place and adolescence a rough time to navigate, which no one gets through unscathed. It’s been a pleasure working with you, David; my only regret is that I can’t sit next to you in person come opening night.
Sydney Bridge Upside Down has inspired and challenged our artists and company to come together and continue evolving a conversation started within the pages of this book. We hope to have this conversation with you personally.
By James Ashcroft
Explore the page to stage adaptation of Sydney Bridge Upside Down
We invite you to join New Zealand writers Kate De Goldi, Ellie Catton, Hamish Clayton and David Hill, Maori theatre director James Ashcroft and members of the Sydney Bridge Upside Down cast, for a panel discussion about Sydney Bridge Upside Down and the process of adaptation from page to stage. The panel discussion series is presented by Taki Rua and the New Zealand Book Council.
Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne has often been described as 'the great unread New Zealand novel'; this year however it seems this little known kiwi gem is finally getting the popular recognition it deserves!
Taki Rua Productions (TRP) have adapted Sydney Bridge Upside Down for the stage and along the way joined forces with the New Zealand Book Council (NZBC) to spread the word about a novel they believe all New Zealanders should read – you have all been a big part of this process through Harry’s Hikoi!
Together both NZBC and TRP have created a national tour of public panel discussions to be held whilst the production plays at venues throughout the country. Panel discussions feature New Zealand writers Kate De Goldi, Ellie Catton, Hamish Clayton and David Hill, Maori theatre director James Ashcroft and members of the Sydney Bridge Upside Down cast. Join them as they discuss why we should all read this novel, talk about its author David Ballantyne and explore the page to stage adaptation process.
This is a free event and everyone’s welcome. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and answer any questions you may have about the writer, the book or the production.
Details / Locations / Dates
Please email email@example.com to register for a place.
New Plymouth, TSB Showplace, 9:30PM Friday 7th June
New Plymouth, Puke Ariki Museum, 1:00PM Saturday 8th June
Gisborne, Central Library, 1:00PM Friday 14th June
Wellington, Downstage Theatre, 1:00PM Wednesday 26th June
Wellington, Downstage Theatre, 9:30PM Friday 5th July
Auckland, Q Theatre, 1:00PM Friday 9th August
Auckland, Q Theatre, 9:30PM Saturday 10th August.
For more information about the play visit the website: http://sbud.co.nz/
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A taster from the previously unpublished Janet Frame novel In the Memorial Room
I do not remember these things
– they remember me,
not as a child or woman but as their last excuse
to stay, not wholly to die.
Janet Frame ‘The Place’, as quoted on the Janet Frame NZBC Literary poster
Janet Frame, who passed away in 2004, is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers, and a brief glance at her Book Council Writers file underscores her standing in our literary culture:
Among her numerous honours, Frame is a Member of the Order of New Zealand, a Nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature and an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She was among ten of New Zealand’s greatest living artists named as Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Artists in 2003. Traumatic childhood events and other life experiences find displaced fictional treatment in her writing; nevertheless, Frame warned against the ‘blurring of the fine distinction between the writer’s work and the writer’s life’ — the naive treatment of her fictional creations as autobiography.
This month Text Publishing Australia release Janet Frame’s unpublished novel In the Memorial Room, a black comedy that draws on the author’s own experiences in Menton, France as the 1974 Katherine Mansfield Fellow:
Harry Gill, a moderately successful writer of historical fiction, has been awarded the annual Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship—a ‘living memorial’ to the poet, Margaret Rose Hurndell. He arrives in the French Riviera town of Menton, where Hurndell once lived and worked, to write. But the Memorial Room is not suitable—it has no electricity or water. Hurndell never wrote here, though it is expected of Harry.
We are very pleased to be able to share a taster of the novel, courtesy of Text Publishing Australia. Click here to read a pdf of Chapter One of In the Memorial Room, or read on below.
We are also thrilled to announce we have ten copies of In the Memorial Room to give away courtesy of Text. To enter the draw visit our Facebook page, and follow the entry instructions on the In the Memorial Room post.
Harry Gill’s Menton Journal
Meeting and Invitation
Today I received word that my application for the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship had been accepted and that I am to be next year’s Fellow. The Committee would like me to visit Wellington for the presentation ceremony early in October, and I am to leave for France by a ship of the Paradise Line in early December.
Although I am not quite sure why I applied for the Fellowship I’m looking forward to travelling, although indeed I am not a traveller and my first voyage out to New Zealand when I was nine years old, in 1950, gave me enough experience, I felt, to last a lifetime. The money from the Fellowship, however, will give me a chance to write a different kind of novel from my first two which have given me the reputation of being an ‘historical’ novelist. Wairau Days might just be called an historical novel, but I did feel that New Families, with its emphasis on the private lives of the characters, might not have been dismissed as it was as ‘another historical novel from the pen of a talented young writer’.
I’d rather like to write a comic novel in the picaresque tradition, a desire which is perhaps strongly proportionate to the lack of picaresque qualities in myself, for I am a dull personality, almost humdrum, a plodder from day to day with only an occasional glimpse of light, literally as well as figuratively for the disease in my eyes has worsened and in another three or five years I might not be fit enough to take up an overseas Fellowship: another reason, I suppose, why I applied for it. So here I am, shy, bespectacled, rather slow on the uptake, a reader and a student since my early childhood and an accidental novelist, for Wairau Days was written to correct or bring to full blossoming the half-truths of the story of Wairau. How surprised I was, that I so much enjoyed my task of telling the truth!
Although it has been a disappointment to my father whose natural desire was that I should qualify in medicine and take over his general practice, it alarms him less, now, that I should be on the way to being a successful writer (described as ‘talented’, and ‘promising’ and not yet too old to panic at the description) than that I should have continued my shilly-shallying of courses at university. The Entomological Course did interest me while I was studying it. And for a while the prospect of Ear-Nose-Throat held me spellbound, and my poor father’s eyes were shining when he talked to his colleagues about me. Then came the blackout and the problem with my sight, and, though that seemed to be only temporary and the family accepted it as such and were cheered when by my accounts and those of the physician it improved (a physician is oblivious to his family’s ills), I have not yet told them of the new problems with it. In some strange way I have fastened my hopes on the scholarship and Menton and I am determined to get there, and to enjoy it, and to write my new kind of novel, and then, when I return home, take whatever is waiting for me.
This last remark sounds schoolboyish, and might betray my English birth; it shows a recklessness which I have within me but which none may read in my face or behaviour.
I have a severe headache above my right eye.
The notice of the award appeared in this evening’s newspaper:
WATERCRESS-ARMSTRONG FEL-LOWSHIP TO YOUNG HISTORICAL NOVELIST
Harry Gill, 33, of Auckland, author of Wairau Days and New Families, has been awarded the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship for 1974. He will leave at the end of November for Menton where he will live for six months working in one of the rooms of the Villa Florita, occupied during her lifetime by Margaret Rose Hurndell, the internationally known poet whose last three books were written at the Villa Florita before her death there in 1960. The Fellowship has been endowed as a living memorial to Margaret Rose Hurndell whose death at the age of thirty cut short a brilliant career.
So. Each of the five fellows before me has taken time to write a study of Margaret Rose Hurndell or to edit letters and one actually discovered an unpublished poem between the leaves of a book sold casually at the annual bazaar of the local English church. At the presentation ceremony in Wellington (which was held last week), when I was asked if I had any plans for making a study of Rose Hurndell I replied that I did not know, I would see how the land lay at Menton, although inevitably Rose Hurndell would be in my thoughts.
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I said I admired some of her poems very much, particularly those of the last book, Rehearsals.
Two ladies at the presentation (there seemed to be mostly ladies and very very tall men, almost with their heads near the roof, in the small group surrounding me), Connie Watercress and Grace Armstrong, the two principal donors of the Fellowship, replied that Rose Hurndell’s first two books were their favourites, the ones written in New Zealand: The Harbour, and Manuka Night.
—Her poems have been translated into thirteen languages, Connie said. —And her Letter to Procne is now known all over the world. Just think!
I thought – just. There is such intense interest in Rose Hurndell’s works, more so, naturally, now that she is dead, and her last poems have been compared in their purity and otherworldliness, their vision of death, to the Requiem music which Mozart left unfinished, and although they were written before her death they have the effect of being posthumous, of actually being written after death.
The conversation that evening was mostly about Margaret Rose Hurndell and her life and her family. I was told that her sister and her sister’s husband had retired to live in Menton two years ago, and that two friends she had made when she lived in London came each year to spend the winter in Menton and to make a pilgrimage to the Villa Florita. Her work was known in the city. The city was proud that she had lived and died there – yes, they were even proud of her death there, although her body was taken to London to be buried.
Towards the close of that presentation evening, when suddenly the talk of Margaret Rose Hurndell had died away, someone asked me – I think it was Connie Watercress – what I planned to write in Menton. I said vaguely that I did not quite know.
—I’m afraid I haven’t read your last book, Connie said. —But I’ve heard so much about it! The New Family.
I smiled and murmured, —Yes, New Families.
—There’s a shortage of historical novelists in New Zealand, someone said, as if talking of petrol or transistor batteries or vacuum cleaners.
—So we’re proud to have you.
—Will you be writing something historical, something French?
—Do you speak French?
—Did you know that Peter Cartwright, who’s at Oxford now, thinks you are the fin-est historical novelist we’ve had? I haven’t read your Wairau Days myself but he said it can’t be faulted. I read an article about it in one of the English papers. I get the Times and Guardian flown over.
—The paper’s too thin, airmail, don’t you find? It tears.
—We’re proud to have you. Perhaps there’ll be more financial support for the Fellowship when they know you’ve got it. We have to advertise you a little, you know.
—So he is!
—Well, Harry, we’ll soon get rid of those blushes.
—Your father’s a doctor, I hear?
And so the conversation continued until one by one the guests found their fur coats and went home, and I stayed a while by myself in the smoke-laden air, snaffling the last few savouries, for I was hungry, and a little drunk, and I went back to the hotel room where they’d booked me (I’d refused to stay with any members of the Committee who’d invited me) and I went straight to bed and fell asleep.
And I dreamed.
I have definite views about a novelist’s inclusion of dreams in his work. Dreams, I think, are for the first novel where all the material for the future is accumulated, packed tightly as in a storehouse the walls of which are strained to bursting point with their contents. Dreams may be inserted as extra provisions because the storehouse has no further room for solid material; dreams weigh nothing, do not need equipment for their transport and may have a chemical volatility which enables them to be replaced and changed often or annihilated when they are no longer of use. I maintain, however, they are one of the privileged tricks allowable only to the first novel, and, later, when the solid material has been withdrawn and used and the mind itself with the approach of middle and old age and death (not necessarily in that order) begins the process of confirming its doubt of the substantiality of the apparently ‘real’ world, as a preparation for its own final material dissolution, then dreams may re-enter the novelist’s work: he may use them as he will.
This is just my opinion. I have been brought up with the disciplines of research and study with, perhaps, after observing my father at work since I was a child, a tendency to watch for symptoms, to diagnose a work of art, to determine the prognosis, the etiology, the epidemiology, and then to set about ‘curing’ it by writing it.
Therefore, after that preamble, I set down my dreams in what is a journal, not a novel.
That night, after the official presentation of the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, I dreamed I was back in my flat in Symonds Street, near Grafton Bridge, after visiting my parents at Northcote for dinner. I had just walked in the door when I noticed, sitting on the sofa that was rather worn and covered with a piece of Indian cotton I bought in Queen Street, a woman of about my own age or a few years younger, dressed in the rather short skirt of the late nineteen fifties, with a cashmere sweater, and – pearls, three rows, about her throat. Her hair was fair to gold, quite short and straight and she was slimly built and rather tall, with exceptionally large hands and feet which I thought ugly. She wore no makeup on her face which was rather too broad to be delicate or beautiful as one imagines beauty, but her eyes were the startling blue which is almost violet and so far known by me only inside fiction. She smiled at me. I had a feeling almost of horror when I realised that her perfectly formed white teeth were false – I could just discern the unnaturally pink plastic gums which have since been replaced in dental prosthetics by a more natural colour. The colour of her gums dated, for me, the time of her acquiring her false teeth. She must have been twenty-two or -three then, if, as I guessed, she was now about twenty-nine.
—Well, aren’t you going to say hello? she said.
Her voice was rather deep for her feminine appearance.
I felt myself blushing.
—Harry’s blushing, she said.
—Oh. You must be Margaret Rose Hurndell?
—Rose Hurndell, please. The Margaret Rose is something I can’t bear.
—I was nineteen when you died, I said.
She looked at me curiously.
—Did you know of me when I died?
—I didn’t know your work, I said. —I knew of you, that you’d had a son and gone overseas and lived overseas. Someone showed me a book you’d written once. I didn’t read it, I’m afraid. Studies and so on. And I’ve never cared for women poets with three names. I’m curious though. I hope you don’t mind my asking but – when did you get your false teeth?
She laughed, showing more of them than I had seen before. The bright pink gums shone; they were horrible, I thought. A bright colour like carnations that have been painted for a flower show.
—I suppose you think it’s rotten cheek my asking.
She laughed again.
—For God’s sake don’t sound like an English schoolboy. You are English, aren’t you?
—I’m a New Zealander now.
—Well, for heaven’s sake never use in my presence those awful dated words, rip-ping, bounder, jolly – you know. I got my teeth, by the way, on the National Health in London. Do you like them?
—Don’t use ghastly, either.
—Nor beastly. Not rotten ripping bounder jolly chap. Where’s your New Zealand speech?
—You’re very fussy, I said, —for some-one with such horrible teeth.
—They’re even and white, are they not?
—Yes, but the gums, the gums!
—The gums of Rose Hurndell.
It was an absurd dream. We simply sat there all evening exchanging absurd remarks. She didn’t seem to me like a poet and I seemed to her like an English schoolboy out of a comic strip of the twenties. And that is all my dream, it simply drifted away. The next morning I took down from my bookshelf a copy of her Fifty Living Men which I bought (the only one of her books I could find) when I knew of my scholarship award.
The Ministerial prime
a political summertime
berg, baron, bedtime
elective ice, infertile wives,
an unfurnished room of nose-gays and lilies of the
Not one of her good poems, I thought. All general, no particular. I read on:
The general has slain
has overcome the particular domain
a man is men one is fifty fifty is one
only there is no sun to be under
time out of particular thunder
the mind emerges kept honeyful and warm
by a swarm.
I don’t care for such poems. It occurred to me that in another few years they’d be forgotten, that although Rose Hurndell had become well known and much read, one had only to look in the endpapers of old books to find the extravagant praises of forgotten authors. I fancied that seven or eight years is too brief a time after death for the kind of memorial which the Watercresses and the Armstrongs had founded, for their memorial gesture might find itself also engulfed in the gradual oblivion necessary before the re-emergence of those whose qualities of work survive decay. I suspected therefore that the founding of the scholarship was a means by which the Watercresses and the Armstrongs, denied fame in their journalistic endeavours, might snatch a little of its nourishing glory (as I had snatched the savouries after the ceremony, for I had been hungry, and all the rich invited guests had gone), sheltered and strengthened by the growth, blossoming and presence of Rose Hurndell as the small plants in the bush are sheltered and given life by the starry-blooming manuka. The title of Rose Hurndell’s second book, Manuka Night, seemed appropriate in that setting.
I know, as I have said, that my own motives for applying for and accepting the scholarship are far from ‘pure’. I am aware of the drama of ‘the young man going blind’. When one is faced with such disasters in one’s life one has to use the drama of the situation as a vehicle to go through it or by-pass it. The name Menton has no particular appeal to me. I am curious of course about Rose Hurndell and her life and work. I shall be interested to meet her brother-in-law Dorset Foster and her sister Elizabeth who have travelled to set up their retirement home so far from their own country and who must have been lured by the fact that Elizabeth’s sister lived and died there. No doubt I shall meet also the Louise Markham who left her husband Haniel and went to Menton to the Villa Florita to live with Rose Hurndell until her death. I have been told that both Haniel and Louise Markham have a permanent winter apartment in Menton. And the Watercresses who know Menton have told me, ‘to put me in the picture’ as they ex-pressed it, of Liz and George Lee, the English couple who help to run the English library, of their own son Michael who, they say, is a promising writer. They have hinted that perhaps, who knows, when I arrive in Menton they will be waiting to welcome me and ‘show me the ropes’, a nautical term no doubt appropriate to use to one who sails in a few weeks to spend thirty-two days on board a ship of the Paradise Line.
My preliminary journal ends here. During my stay in Menton I shall make notes in between writing a novel, and when I return from Menton with (I hope) my novel completed, I shall write the story of my tenure of the Fellowship. Tenure is a word which appeals to me.
Five Easy Questions with Fluer Adcock
Fleur Adcock is a poet, editor and translator. To celebrate the release of her new collection of poetry Glass Wings (May 2013), Adcock will appear in conversation with Harry Ricketts at the Adam Art Gallery on May 6th at 6.00pm. We ask her a few quick questions about her latest book.
1. How would you describe Glass Wings in a few words?
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A gift to me from the Muse in my declining years. (Not the last gift, I'm happy to say: I'm already well into my next collection of poems).
2. Glass Wings includes a section of poems called ‘My life with Arthropods’. What drew you to observations of insect and human cohabitation?
I've always been fascinated by insects and miniature forms of life. Small children live close to the ground and have very keen eyesight; I shouldn't like to try counting the legs on a centipede now. For years I've been writing poems about what my friends refer to as ‘creepy crawlies’. I have a deep affection for spiders, for example, and was slightly embarrassed when I once had to send the window cleaner away because my front window-panes were occupied by the works of art constructed by several beautiful orb web spiders. I'm not too keen on mosquitoes, but I thought they deserved a poem: I was delighted to discover that I'm not actually allergic to the Auckland ones, having evidently developed an immunity to them in my early childhood. My arthropods sequence covers ‘nice insects’ – we all love butterflies – and less nice ones; it includes the only poem I'm aware of about pubic lice.
3. There are a number of poems inspired by family wills from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Can you talk about how these poems came about?
In the course of researching all the branches of my family history in great depth over some 20 years I was fortunate to come across a great number of wills, from the humblest peasant farmer dying in debt with a few cattle and the tools of his trade to some really quite grand people (although not always as grand as they tried to make out). Wills can be highly revealing, sometimes poignant and occasionally amusing; they make you feel like a voyeur. I picked out some samples from various periods over the last four centuries that seemed to tell good stories or to cast light on the humanity of their makers.
4. Living in London and visiting New Zealand regularly, do you write out of a strong sense of place or places?
Anyone who went to 13 different schools and lived in goodness knows how many houses during her youth is inevitably much concerned with places, and passionately attached to some of them; my sister and I always fell in love with the various towns and villages where we lived in our youth (although not always with the actual schools), and when I was of an age to choose I managed to spend time working in, for example, the Lake District, Norfolk and the north-east of England, as well as enjoying trips to far-flung places in the course of literary engagements: one of the perks of writing poetry is the festivals. (Another is getting to know the other poets; I like people as well as places). Being in a different environment puts the imagination on alert, and with luck feeds back into the poems.
5. What’s on your bedside table?
A glass of water and a radio; with my deteriorating eyesight it's no longer comfortable to read in bed. However, the book I have lying on the kitchen table to read at odd moments is RS Thomas's Uncollected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2013), and assorted other books are scattered around my study with bookmarks in them.
Find out more about Fleur Adcock in her Book Council Writers file.
Author photo top left by Caroline Forbes and courtesy of Victoria University Press