2013 Man Booker Prize
On the eve of the 2013 Man Booker Prize announcement, our Chief Executive Catriona Ferguson takes a look at Eleanor Catton's stratospheric success and asks if we celebrate our writers' achievements enough.
Eleanor Catton’s inclusion on this year’s Man Booker shortlist is an extraordinary achievement. However, while there has been lots of Twitter and Facebook activity, it does feel a bit like the mainstream media has under-cooked their reporting. (Admittedly, a recent Listener features Catton as its cover star and has a hefty eight-page spread with photo shoot.) But it almost gives some credence to John Key’s comment on literary heroes who ‘may never challenge the glory and respect given to our All Blacks’. And it’s noticeable that at a time when Eleanor Catton is the youngest ever writer to be shortlisted for arguably the most prestigious prize in the English language, attention remains on the will he won’t he shenanigans of Sonny Billy Williams and the World Cup Rugby team line-up. I have to admit to a bias (rugby? – I know I’m in the minority here) but it would be a fine thing if our cultural heroes were given the chance to occasionally get a similar kind of attention devoted to our sports stars. As Catton has said herself, literature is ‘not actually a competitive sport’, but it is significant that she has been nominated on a list that includes the likes of international literary heavyweights Colm Toibin, Jhumpa Lahiri and Jim Crace.
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On a more prosaic level it’s financially useful, just making it onto a shortlist alone will boost sales and you’ll get a bonus prize of around $5,000. If you win you are guaranteed even more sales and there’s also generous award of $95,000. Additionally your books can forever more be considered for the prize automatically without having to go through an arduous publishers selection process — each publisher can only submit two titles per year. Whatever happens next, the Man Booker shortlisting for The Luminaries will continue to have resonance for New Zealand literature. And whether it does get the media coverage it deserves or not, that is a marvellous thing for our country's writers and readers.
Catriona Ferguson is the Chief Executive of the Book Council.
For more reading on The Luminaries, check out our Review of Reviews: The Luminaries. Not sure where to go when you've finished Catton's Man Booker shortlisted novel? Try more great long novels recommended in Keep Calm and Carry on Reading: Doorstoppers.
Keep Calm and Carry On Reading: Doorstoppers
There's a lot of talk about the rise of the long, long novel. We asked Tilly Lloyd of Unity Books Wellington to lend us her considerable reading expertise and give us her recommendations for the best doorstoppers, so you know where to turn when you've finished Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker short-listed novel, The Luminaries.
1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: 832 Pages
In which an 1860s opiated gold rush mystery (featuring a dozen conflicts of interest) is stage directed over 800 astrologically predetermined pages to a fitting climax in Hokitika. Given 12/10 by more than one New Zealand bookstore and short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker, it’s an ingenious work uncontaminated by regional noir. Not that we are against regional noir. Or any form of localism.
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: 1084 pages
In which a gym instructor who avenges victims of domestic violence descends into an oddball parallel universe featuring a moon-struck maths tutor. No opiates.
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Louise Shanks Maude and Aylmer Maude): 992 pages
One of Catton’s major reads. A novel of unparalleled depth and style, in which a rebellious wife renounces Russian respectability for an affair with a younger man.
4. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice & Fire, Book 5) by George R. R. Martin: 1040 pages
Marginally shorter than A Storm of Swords (Book 3). A Tolkien-esque fantasy, in which a grand cast of outlaws, priests, soldiers, skin-changers, nobles and slaves all cop their whack.
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: 771 pages
In which a New Yorker with post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction problems is haunted by a theft. Exceptional side-kicks. A mesmerising ‘why-dunnit’. Fully furnished. Some opiates. (Published 23 October 2013)
6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: 1472 pages
Through which the names Scarlett and Rhett were permanently forged into the western cultural psyche. In which a hot-headed southern belle reconstructs her life after the American Civil War with a ruthlessness that could only be pre-feminist.
7. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, reworked by Terence Kilmartin, revised by D J Enright): 4211 pages in the slipcase six pack
À la Recherche du Temps Perdu or Remembrance of Things Past. The memory map with the madeleine, for which booksellers across the world have endured decades of bibliographic anxiety due to the number of sets where one volume is OP (out of print).
8. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace: 1104 pages
In which the recovering addicts and tennis players of a seething American geopolitical underbelly search for the master copy of a movie. Satirical, bleak, slightly futurist. Includes the first extensive pharmacopeia footnotes in a novel.
9. The Kills by Richard House: 1002 pages
A novel of crime and conspiracy set mostly in Iraq. Long-listed for the 2013 Man Booker. A multimedia expansion of the novel and characters is provided at www.thekills.co.uk
10. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: 960 pages
In which cowboys run a cattle drive from Texas through to Montana to deliver steak for the survivors of the civil war and confront anti-heroism, heroism, love-sickness, storms, stampedes, snakes in the grass, and raiding Comanche outcasts on the way.
11. Miss MacIntosh My Darling by Marguerite Young*: 1198 pages
In which a woman searches for her lost-at-sea childhood nursemaid, and in which the narrative thread is adrift for 30 to 60 pages at a time, and from which we'll take any excuse to share a quote:
She had cried outside many gates of stillness where only her own voice had cried back to her, bouncing like the echo, little doubt, or like a ball, and sometimes she had heard that echo of which there had been no voice as there had been no shadow of her, and she had knocked at many doors which had not opened to her knocking, and some said that she was only the shadow and thus did not recognize herself, for the shadow knew not the substance although the substance knew the shadow, and some said that there had never been a lady but this lady who was lost and wandering through mountain storms where wandered also the sails of yachts white as that snow through which they wandered from pole to pole -- but how much more successful she had been in her failure than if only one door had opened to her knock. (p. 652).
*It would be so heartening if the woman who borrowed the now OP two-volume slipcase edition from me in 1981 at the Hotel Caledonia, Pyrmont, would return it in exchange for any other novel in the shop.
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12. Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus: 718 pages
In which a sassy centenarian — one of the most loquacious heroines in American literature — spills on arson, duty, marriage, slavery and war.
13. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: 1488 pages
A panoramic exploration of post-independence India in which a woman searches for a suitable husband, enduring many oppositional forces and the most exacting maternal appraisal.
Tilly Lloyd is the co-owner and manager of Unity Books Wellington.
Photo bottom left: Gabrielle Kinney perusing Unity Books Wellington's 700+ page books display for insomniacs
A Monstrous Author Interview: Mansfield with Monsters Going West
Mansfield with Monsters (Steam Press) won the 2013 Sir Julius Vogel Award for best new talent, as well as best collected work. The book breaks exciting new macabre ground and co-authors, Matt and Debbie Cowens, will be in conversation with Sarah Laing at the Going West Books and Writing Weekend 13 -15 September. We celebrate their appearance at Going West with a monstrous interview with the authors.
Here is a little bit of advice from Mansfield herself before we proceed: ‘Don’t lower your mask until you have another mask prepared beneath—as terrible as you like—but a mask’.
1. Where did the idea for Mansfield with Monsters bubble up from?
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Matt: Debbie and I are both high school teachers and we've taught Mansfield's stories in class, translating them at times for students, both into cartoon form and modern English. The idea of doing something altogether more irreverent with Mansfield's words was something we joked about at first, going so far as to devise a comedy sketch about a Hollywood film adaptation of 'Miss Brill' (complete with Cliff Curtis jumping over the Eiffel Tower on a motorbike). The idea delighted us in its comical form, and we began to wonder whether a set of serious adaptations might be possible. A little digging into copyright law, close study of Mansfield's work and some experimentation followed, and from that the pitch for Mansfield with Monsters was born.
2. How did the writing process work between you?
Debbie: There were several weeks spread across different school holidays where we worked at opposite ends of the house each morning, writing and adapting stories and not talking to each other until lunch time. It was an oddly solitary collaboration at times, but then our afternoons would be filled with discussion and developments and shared inspiration.
Matt: For a number of the stories we worked on first drafts independently, then swapped stories and worked on second and third drafts of each other’s versions. For other stories – most memorably, ‘The Doll's House’ – we collaborated from the start, analysing Mansfield's writing together, looking for the opportunities to twist her words, to insert something monstrous which would work in concert with the original. We've written scripts in group situations before, with the text projected on a large screen and input from anyone in the room being incorporated by a diligent (and fast typing) scribe. It's a fun way to work and for some of the stories in the collection we replicated that workflow in a two person style.
3. Do you have a favourite story from the collection, or favourite monster?
Matt: I have a real soft spot for giant bugs. Stephen King's 'The Mist' is one of my all-time favourite horror stories. The adaptation of ‘The Garden Party’ in Mansfield with Monsters pits giant bugs against people in steam punk suits of armour, whilst exaggerating the gulf of safety between rich and poor. I love all the stories in the collection but if I had to pick a favourite, I'd go with the bugs.
Debbie: I really enjoyed working on ‘Bliss’. I love Mansfield's original tale and I had wanted to include a zombie story as soon as we started working on the collection. I have a fascination with zombies; in many ways, they're the least appealing of monsters because they have no personality or any sympathetic qualities, but they present such a terrifying prospect of a relentless, unthinking doom that they can provoke cruelty and inhumanity amongst the survivors.
4. Would you have Mansfield's ghost around for dinner?
Debbie: Katherine Mansfield would be in my top-five list of dead writers to have over for a ghostly dinner party.
Matt: I get hungry around 4.30pm, so as long as she doesn't mind an early dinner I'd be fine with it.
5. What inspires you about New Zealand science fiction and fantasy?
Debbie: There's a thriving, incredibly inclusive community of New Zealand writers, film-makers, artists and fans of speculative fiction in New Zealand. There are organisations like SpecFicNZ, and get-togethers like this year's Au Contraire convention where like-minded people gather to celebrate the things they love. Being a part of that diverse community and enjoying the amazing works produced here is a wonderful thing.
6. Are you planning to collaborate again on a book?
Matt: We recently completed an adaptation of Mansfield's 'At the Bay' together. It's up on Amazon as an ebook. It's the most ambitious adaptation we've done to date, blending the mythos of HP Lovecraft with Mansfield's writing. We're also looking into the copyright status of HP Lovecraft's early work, as we're keen to work on a collection of Lovecraft adaptations which bring female protagonists and more modern values to his early works – we're going with "Lovecraft with Ladies" as a working title. It has been a hugely satisfying (and successful) partnership and one we'd love to continue.
7. What's on your bedside table?
Matt: I used to be a monogamous reader, sticking with one novel until it was finished, but I'm a little more scattergun with my time now. I'm enjoying Sarah Laing's comic series Let Me Be Frank, Richard Parry's werewolf thriller Night's Favour, and Random Static's speculative fiction short story collection Regeneration. Most of the fiction I've read lately has been by New Zealand authors, and the more New Zealand fiction I read, the more impressed I become by the calibre of writers working in New Zealand.
Debbie: Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan. I'm thoroughly enjoying it; the characters are brilliantly depicted and there's a lot of humour, as well dark and ominous occult goings-on. Makes me quite nostalgic for my student days back in Wellington. I've also just started Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I started reading Murakami's books last year and fell in love so I'm currently working my way through them.
Find out more about Mansfield with Monsters here. And watch the video.
You can see Matt and Debbie Cowens in conversation with Sarah Laing at the Going West Festival this weekend. Book here.
Photo top right: Matt & Debbie Cowens
Paul Cleave on writing thrillers and keeping company with creepy characters
Paul Cleave is an internationally best-selling crime-writer, who lives, and sets all of his books, in Christchurch. Twelve years and six novels after his first book The Cleaner, Cleave brings back one of his most infamous characters, the Christchurch Carver (a.k.a Joe Middleton). We ask him a few questions about his new novel, Joe Victim.
1. Readers can get sneak previews of Joe Middleton’s (a.k.a the Christchurch Carver’s) diary entries online. How would you describe Joe in a few words?
Creepy. Arrogant. Funny. Likeable. And unlucky. Joe's pretty much a fun-loving serial killer who just wants to find love. And kill people.
2. What do you think makes a thriller truly gripping?
The characters. Definitely the characters. I mean, when you finish reading a really fantastic book, and you think about that story a week or a month or a year later, it's the people you remember from those stories. A gripping thriller is one that really makes you care for those people — you root for them, you want the best and you want the worst for them, you feel like those people truly existed and you continue to care about them well after the story is over.
3. Do you do much research before you sit down to write a novel?
None. Absolutely none before the novels, because the kind of books I write I don't need it. I'll do some during, if I need to figure out what kind of gun is best to do this or that, or what would make some people hear voices — that kind of thing. But it's rare. It is important that I get facts right, but it's more important I can tell a good story — and sometimes you have to fudge the facts a little along the way...
4. What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?
Ooh... good question. The scariest? Geez, I don't really know. I don't really get scared from books. But last year R.J. Ellory gave me one of his books, Bad Signs, and that thing almost shattered me. I swear, I got to the end of it and thought I was going to have to take up drinking or drugs just to recover from it — I've never had a novel drain me like that. God, it was amazing.
5. How do you survive writing a character when they make your skin crawl a bit? Is that ever a struggle?
Ha — well, the truth is they don't make my skin crawl. Writing from Joe's perspective is a lot of laughs, because I try to have funny things happen to him. It'd been a long time since I had written The Cleaner, so revisiting Joe after all those years (I'd aged twelve years, he had aged one) was actually a really neat experience, and one I wish I had done earlier. I actually try to make all my creepy guys relatable. In Joe's case he's relatable by having pets and a crazy mum and he gets bullied in jail and funny things happen to him — but what I really mean is that other creepy guys in other books, other serial killers, they all have a reason to do what they're doing. So my job is to try and make unlikeable people likeable. I want you inside the dark thoughts of these men and women, and I want you to think: yeah, I can imagine I'd do that if I were in that situation...
6. What are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading The Book of Death, which is the fourth book in a series written by an anonymous author. These are really cool vampire/werewolf/killer clowns kind of books. I actually know the guy — though I've never met him — and he writes some damn cool stuff. We have the same publisher in France, so we read each other's books. R.J. posted me another of his books the other day, but I have to prepare myself somewhat before reading it. And I have a copy of Gone Girl here, which everybody keeps telling me to read.
7. What are you working on now?
I just finished the second draft of what will be next year's book — unless my editors hate it, in which case it will be next year's reason to start drinking and looking for another job. It's the return of Theodore Tate, who exited his last book on a bit of a cliffhanger. I'm working on a Young Adult novel, which I started last year but then had to put on hold as Joe Victim went through editing, and then I had to write this other one I've just finished. And I have to start 2015's book which, I think, has the potential to be pretty awesome. My agent pitched it to my US editor recently, and they're all excited about it — so now I'm kind of roped into it, which is really going to suck if I can't get it to work. I'm back in New Zealand for three months, and am hoping to get as much done as I can while I'm here. Which may not be much as earthquake repairs start on my house soon, so I'll be living in a construction zone for four weeks. Then it's back to Europe for a book tour in Germany — just in time for winter...
Find out more about Paul Cleave on his website.
Joe Victim giveaway coming soon: Keep your eye on our Facebook page early next week for our next giveaway: two copies of Paul Cleave's Joe Victim, courtesy of Penguin Books NZ.
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