30 July 2010

NZ Poetry Day: Zoetropes, by Bill Manhire


A starting. Words which begin
with Z alarm the heart:
the eye cuts down at once

then drifts across the page
to other disappointments.


Zenana: the women's
in Indian or Persian houses.
Zero is nought, nothing,

nil - the quiet starting point
of any scale of measurement.


The land itself is only
smoke at anchor, drifting above
Antarctica's white flower,

tied by a thin red line
(5000 miles) to Valparaiso.

London 29.4.81

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Bill Manhire.

Tim says: This poem captures better than any other I know both the sense of isolation which so many New Zealanders feel, and the sudden, irrational pride in reading any mention of our little country, no matter how trivial or fleeting, in the world's media. Here we are, floating somewhere between Chile and Antarctica, hoping someone will notice us...

Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand's best-known poets. "Zoetropes" was published as the title poem of Zoetropes: Poems 1972-82, and republished in Collected Poems (2001), available in New Zealand and internationally from Victoria University Press, and in the UK from Carcanet.

28 July 2010

An Interview With Kathleen Jones

Kathleen Jones is a biographer, poet and journalist based in the English Lake District. Her partner is a sculptor working in Italy, and several members of her family live in New Zealand, so she spends quite a lot of time travelling.

Kathleen started writing as a teenager, contributing to local papers and teenage magazines. She wrote a lot of bad poetry, married very young and went to live in the Middle East where she started working for the Qatar Broadcasting Corporation as a presenter and script-writer. When she came back to England she freelanced for the BBC and this led to her first biography. She’s now written about 11 books including poetry as well as journalism and short stories. Kathleen also tutors creative writing and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lancaster University.

You are known for your biographies of woman writers, including Margaret Cavendish, Christina Rossetti and Catherine Cookson. August 2010 sees the publication of The Storyteller, your new biography of Katherine Mansfield. What drew you to Katherine Mansfield as the subject for a biography?

I’ve loved her work and been fascinated by her life story since I was a teenager. I found the John Middleton Murry edition of her Journal in a second hand book bin when I was 17, and I’ve carried it around everywhere even though it’s in pieces now.

Even then I was aware that there was a lot of myth-making, and everything I read about her just made me more determined to find out what really happened. There were mysteries, and Katherine herself was portrayed as either a rather waspish good-time girl, or a sentimental heroine wasting away like someone in a Victorian novel. I wanted to know what she was really like.

As one might expect of such a major figure in the New Zealand literary scene, Katherine Mansfield has been the subject of a lot of biographies and other non-fiction books. If someone asked “why should I read your Katherine Mansfield biography rather than one of the others?”, how would you answer?

I would say “Read mine because it’s the only biography to be written since all the documents relating to Katherine and her husband John Murry became available in the public domain. Katherine’s letters and notebooks have all been transcribed and printed and the diaries and letters of John Murry are now also in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Additionally I’ve had the help of the family who still have quite a lot of material relating to both Mansfield and Murry. There’s a lot of new information. It’s significant that most of the leading figures in the story are now dead, so information is less likely to be withheld to protect people.”

I’ve also tried to write a book that’s good to read. I want my characters to live in the mind of the reader and come off the page as vividly as they would in a novel.

The Storyteller is being published by Penguin New Zealand. I know of many New Zealand writers who have been published in the UK, but this is the first time I’ve heard of the publishing process going in the opposite direction. How have you found that process of being published half a world away, and what promotion will you be doing for the book while you’re in New Zealand?

Yes, it does seem strange. Initially it was a partnership between a UK publisher and Penguin NZ but the ‘publishing crash’ has had a huge impact over here and literary biographies have been dropped like hot cakes – rather than selling like them. Fortunately, Geoff Walker at Penguin has been hugely enthusiastic about the book and was very happy to go ahead. I’ve got great editors and the whole thing has been a lovely experience. It’s amazing how much can be done by email!

I’m arriving in New Zealand on the 5th August and there are several events lined up - there’s a talk and discussion with Sarah Sandley at the Women’s Bookshop in Auckland on the 10th August at 6pm, in Wellington Thursday 19th for a New Zealand Book Council event, and then I’m at Christchurch Literature Festival for two events: Friday 10 September, 11.00am–12.00pm, Past Lives Session with Jeffrey Paparoa Holman & Paul Millar, and Sunday 12 September, 12.30-1.30pm, a session on Katherine Mansfield (with Harry Ricketts).

I’m also available for talks, discussions, readings and workshops and if there’s anyone out there who wants to organise a small event, I’d be happy to be involved.

Of your previous biography subjects, I suspect that Margaret Cavendish will be least known to my readers, just as she was least known to me. I was fascinated to read about the scope of her achievements, and also that she had written an early science fiction/utopian novel, antedating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. How did you find out about Margaret Cavendish, and what was the lasting impression she left on you?

Margaret Cavendish was one of the earliest women (1641) to publish her work at a time when it was considered immoral for women even to write! I found a quotation by her when I was researching a programme for the BBC. She basically said that it was no wonder men didn’t consider women to be their equals because women were so ignorant and silly. The cure, she said, was education and while women continued to be educated at home by their mothers or governesses it would never change; ‘Women breeding up women – one fool breeding up another’.

I was so intrigued by her unique voice, I tried to find out more. It was a detective trail that ended with the biography. She was a shy, difficult, rather neurotic person, living at a time when women had very little freedom, but her courage was immense and I’ll always remember how she endured mockery and abuse with dignity, for saying that women ought to have equality.

More generally, why do you like writing biographies?

I’m fascinated by people’s lives. You could say that biography is a kind of up-market Hello! magazine – there’s an element of voyeurism, literary lace-curtain twitching about it however scholarly you are. But nothing beats the buzz you get, sitting in an archive, reading a love letter – perhaps Wordsworth to his wife – or turning the pages of Katherine Mansfield’s journals. You’re touching the same paper they touched, reading the words they inked on the page all those years ago.

According to Wikipedia, you “escaped to London as a teenager in order to become a writer”. Why was this necessary, and what led you to return from London to the North?

I was brought up on a small farm in a remote part of the United Kingdom – many of the local people had never been more than 30 miles away from home in their entire lives. Apart from breeding sheep, nothing much else went on. I loved the landscape and the isolation, so it was difficult to leave, but I knew I had to go in order to become a writer. You need contact with other writers – Katherine Mansfield had to leave New Zealand to do it.

Once I’d become a writer and established myself, it was easier to return home, but I still have to go to London regularly because that’s where it all happens.

I imagine that both environments: London, and Cumbria where you now live, provide benefits to writers. If you were a young writer growing up in Cumbria, or indeed any comparatively remote rural location, today, would you advise them to head to London to start their writing career?

Yes, I would. I think you need to get away to get some perspective on your own life. You also need ‘input’. If you stay in a small community there’s always a danger that you become a big fish in a little pond and never really achieve what you’re capable of. And you need to find your way around the world of books so that people know who you are.

The days when you could write and keep a low profile, relying on publishers and bookshops to sell the product are over – publishers expect you to go out and network to publicise your books. We have to learn to be ambassadors for our own work. The shy, reclusive author is at a disadvantage.

You write poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction. What place does each of these have in your writing?

I like all the different genres, though I’d probably have been more successful if I’d stuck to only one. It depends on the idea – some ideas are only suitable for a poem, other will stretch to a short story, non-fiction projects demand a much greater investment in time and research and have to be chosen quite carefully. If you’re going to write a biography you have to like someone enough to spend a couple of years in their company.

Which writers have been most influential on your own writing, and which are your personal favourites? Are there any writers who haven't received the publicity they deserve that you'd like to recommend?

Apart from Katherine Mansfield’s Journal, I also read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea as a teenager and it taught me a lot about getting away from traditional narrative. The other really influential book was Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller... and for the same reason. They taught me a lot about multiple narrative threads and parallel texts. If you put two – or more – stories together in the right way they can double up on the meaning in the same way that poetry does.

It will sound a bit weird, but the other book that influenced me was Chaos, by James Gleick, because it demolished the traditional way we thought about the universe and how it’s ordered. I suddenly realised that everything – absolutely everything – is made out of beautiful numerical patterns that keep evolving and changing because they are Imperfect and Incomplete.

It seemed to offer ideas about the patterning of words in poetry and prose – and it reinforced the conviction that a narrative or a poem has to be open ended with a sense of evolving, not rounded off and complete in a dead-end sort of way that offers the reader no way of carrying the story on. It taught me that creativity comes out of chaos. Does this make any sense?

There are hundreds of good authors out there who never get the readers they deserve. I know you’ve got lots in New Zealand who never make it across the ocean. It is such a pity. Marketing is everything these days. One really good author I’ve come across recently is Amy Sackville, whose first novel The Still Point is utterly ravishing.

Do you have a plan for how your writing career will continue to unfold? If so, and if it isn't a secret, where do you see yourself and your writing in five years' time?

The Mansfield biography has been very hard work – so I’m taking a rest and concentrating on fiction for a while. I would like to publish more fiction – it’s too easy to become ‘pigeon-holed’ in a particular genre. Just now I’ve got a couple of plots burning away at the back of my head and I need to see if I can get either of them to work.

27 July 2010

Tuesday Poem: If Looks Could Kill

If Looks Could Kill

When the woman gave me a look
back over her shoulder
I went and crossed the road

it was dark and poorly lit
I didn't want to scare her
and I didn't mean any harm

well, none of us do,
but we're clumsy
we break things and people

that's the way it is
that's the fact of the matter
look, we were made that way

and the most they do is look
but they'd have done with us long since
if looks could kill.

Tim says:I was very affected by Men, a powerful poem by Bert Stern which Tuesday Poet Melissa Shook published on her blog last week. It was hard to find the right words for a comment, so I thought I'd post "If Looks Could Kill" this week instead.

"If Looks Could Kill" was published in my first poetry collection, Boat People (HeadworX, 2002).

Boat People is my first poetry collection. It was published in 2002 by HeadworX, the year after my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events. There are forty poems in Boat People.

Copies of Boat People are available directly from me at the cheap, cheap price of NZ $5.00 plus postage and packing. Please email me at senjmito@gmail.com if you'd like one.

Check out the Tuesday Poem blog for all the Tuesday Poems.

22 July 2010

C. J. Cherryh's Chanur Series: Space Opera Done Right

I used to be a big fan of science fiction writer (Carolyn) J. Cherryh, and have read many of her books. Somewhere back in the mid 1990s, I stopped enjoying her work so much, and I had not read a book by her for many years until I decided to re-read her five-volume Chanur series, published in the late '80s and early '90s. And, to my surprise and pleasure, I enjoyed them at least as much this time around as I had the first time of reading.

The Chanur series consists of five books:

The Pride of Chanur
Chanur's Venture
The Kif Strike Back
(OK, OK, terrible title, I know)
Chanur's Homecoming
Chanur's Legacy

The first and final books are standalones; the middle three form one long narrative; and all five are set in one universe. The first three books are available in one volume as The Chanur Saga, and the last two as Chanur's Endgame.

The universe of the Chanur series is one in which six spacefaring species, three oxygen-breathing and three methane-breathing, control adjacent sectors of space. Within the framework of an increasingly uneasy "Compact", they meet, trade, and sometimes fight. But then a new spacefaring species: largely hairless, bipedal, sadly lacking in claw or fang - enters the picture. With the arrival of these "humans", as they call themselves, the fragile balance of the Compact is further disturbed, and war looms.

The Chanur are a spacefaring clan of the hani species, whose biology and social structure is modelled most closely on lions: the smaller females do the planning, organised hunting and (in this case) trading, while the larger males are valued mainly for their abilities at breeding and single combat. As the series opens, only hani females venture into space, with the males (and many females) remaining behind on the homeworld, Anuurn. The Pride of Chanur is a Chanur trading vessel captained by the unusually far-sighted hani captain Pyanfar Chanur.

The Chanur series falls within that sub-genre of science fiction known as space opera. It's not a sub-genre I'm particularly fond of, so why do I like the Chanur books so much?

i think it's because they violate many of the expectations and tropes that weigh down "traditional" space opera, or for that matter the new space opera which has become so popular over the past twenty or so years. Traditional space opera focuses on the mind-bogglingly vast, with the plot proceeding by successive revelations on an increasingly gargantuan scale, and the characters are little more than ciphers chosen to advance the plot.

By comparison, the Chanur series takes place within a limited volume of space, in which movement from any one star system can only be to a limited number of other systems. Most of the time, the action takes place within normal space, on spaceships or on the space stations which serve as venues for trading and diplomacy. Time spent in hyperspace (travelling faster than light) is brief and dreamlike. The narrative style, as described in C. J. Cherryh's Wikipedia entry, is "tight third person": that's a good choice to described the cramped, fraught environment of an overburdened spaceship far from home. And, over the five books, we get to know - and, in many cases, love - the complex, flawed characters no less than we would in a novel set in our here and our now.

At their core, the Chanur novels are about overcoming one's prejudices and learn to appreciate difference. By the time the first four books are over, Pyanfar's crew, all female hani at the start of the first book, has swelled to include male hani, male human, and even a kif, widely condemned among the other species for treachery - though, by their own lights, they are the soul of consistency. In the fifth book, Pyanfar's heir apparent Hilfy Chanur comes to appreciate the delicate ways of the st'sho, masters of diplomacy and indirection.

The Chanur novels are exciting, well-written, and thought-provoking, and Pyanfar Chanur, and the human Tully - even seen through eyes very alien to us - are two of science fiction's most memorable characters. You won't regret a journey with the Chanur clan.

20 July 2010

Tuesday Poem: North


On Ilkley Moor
I parked me red
Ford Laser hatchback
and gazed to the north.
Rain and smoke stood over Wharfedale.

It was all in its appointed place:
stone houses and stone smiles in Ilkley
the wind on the bleak
insalubrious bracken.

I was waiting for memory
to make the scene complete:
some flat-vowelled voice out of childhood
snatches of Northern song.

For memory read TV:
Tha've broken tha poor Mother's heart
It were only a bit of fun.
Bowl slower and hit bloody stumps.

Tha'll never amount to much, lad. In cloth cap and gaiters,
car forgotten, I pedal down the hill. Hurry oop
or tha'll be late for mill. Folk say
I've been seeing the young widow Cleghorn.
Well, now, fancy that.

In my invented character
I trail my falsified heritage
down the long, consoling streets.

Tim says:I was born in Cleethorpes, near Grimsby, in Lincolnshire, UK (just south of Yorkshire) and my family moved to New Zealand when I was two.

I returned to the UK in 1989, when I was 30, and spent much of my time there in Grimsby and points north. It was hard not to wonder what my life would have been like if my family had remained "oop North". TV shows such as Brass provided invaluable guidance.

"North" was published in my first poetry collection, Boat People (HeadworX, 2002).

Boat People is my first poetry collection. It was published in 2002 by HeadworX, the year after my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events. There are forty poems in Boat People.

Copies of Boat People are available directly from me at the cheap, cheap price of NZ $5.00 plus postage and packing. Please email me at senjmito@gmail.com if you'd like one.

Check out the Tuesday Poem blog for all the Tuesday Poems.

15 July 2010

An Interview With Chris Bell

In 1976 Chris Bell was the youngest poet to have been published in Norman Hidden’s British small press magazine ‘Workshop New Poetry’, which later championed British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, among others. His short stories have appeared in ‘The Third Alternative’ (UK); ‘Grotesque’ (Ireland); ‘The Heidelberg Review’ (Germany); ‘Transversions’ (Canada); ‘Not One of Us’; ‘Zahir’ (US) and ‘Takahe’ (New Zealand), as well as on the internet. ‘The Cruel Countess’ was anthologised in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (10th Annual Edition), published by St Martin’s Griffin Books, in which his collection The Bumper Book of Lies received a couple of Honourable Mentions.

His short-short story ‘www.sadbastard.co.nz’ appeared in the 2005 Random House New Zealand anthology Home. Liquidambar, his first novel, was the winner of the 2004 UKAuthors and PADB’s ‘In Search of A Great Read’ novel-writing competition. His story ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ was anthologised in the PS Publishing anthology This Is The Summer of Love and received an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow’s anthology The Best Horror of The Year (Datlow’s choice of honourable mentions was described by Amanda Spedding of the Innsmouth Free Press as “an extraordinarily strong collection”) and it’s about to appear in the Constable & Robinson-published anthology The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. It isn’t a horror story.

After finishing Liquidambar, Bell wrote the first draft of a novella, 'Saccade', completion of which has been interrupted since the birth of his son Frank (named after Zappa), now two and a half years old.

To start at the end, you say on your website that your most recent short story, ‘Iniquity’, which you’ve made available on the site, is “perhaps the last short story I will ever write”. Why, and what comes next?

“I began submitting short stories to small press magazines in the 1980s. Before that, in the 1970s, I’d suffered the multiple blunt head trauma of rejection and disappointment from submissions to countless small press poetry magazines. While I acknowledge the value of rejection for writers (no irony intended), it’s become increasingly common and I don’t feel that’s a comment on any dwindling in the quality of my writing.

“Over the years, publishers have become increasingly slow to react and less likely to accept unsolicited work. Where once I was able to sell a story to multiple small press markets simultaneously, these days publishers increasingly demand exclusivity in return for not very much. As a full-time father, writing became a luxury I can rarely afford or find time for. I’ve decided it’s too difficult to fully explore my material. I may at some point finish my novella, and it would of course be tempting fate to claim ‘Iniquity’ is definitely my last short story, but I’ve succumbed to the law of diminishing returns.”

Your short story ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ has just been accepted for the forthcoming edition of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, edited by Stephen Jones. I see that ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ was first published in 2006. What was the path from first publication to anthology selection?

“I decided to serialise the publication of ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ on the group blog NZBC in order to speed its completion. Prior to that I’d been working on it for about a year. It’s an homage to 1920s ghost stories and so was a tricky one to get right. It had previously taken me a weekend at most to finish a raw, first draft of a story. I then began submitting ‘Shem’ to the usual suspects: small press magazines around the world. After the customary half-dozen rejections it was accepted by Pete Crowther at PostScripts and Sheryl Tempchin at 'Zahir' magazine in the US. I can only assume Stephen Jones saw it in the PostScripts anthology, This Is The Summer of Love, as his contract arrived out of the blue. A rare and pleasant surprise.

“It hasn’t been a universally well-liked story, though; for some inexplicable reason the British Science Fiction Association took exception to it. Although why they even bothered reading it let alone commenting on it when it isn’t science fiction I’m not sure.”

You’ve had another notable success in getting into a major anthology, too. How did that come about?

“The St Martin’s Griffin Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror in 1996 occurred after my story ‘The Cruel Countess’ appeared in ‘The Third Alternative’ (now Black Static magazine) and several other places. It was chosen by speculative fiction mavens Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling and its selection was helped by a favourable review of my collected stories, The Bumper Book of Lies by Paul di Filippo in 'Asimov’s Science Fiction' magazine. Paul has subsequently supported more of my writing and offered his advice.”

How did you get your start in writing, and in getting work published?

“My first ever published story, ‘On Formosa Street’ (which is also the first real story I completed, and the first in my mainly chronological collection The Bumper Book of Lies) was published by Isa Moynihan in the New Zealand magazine Takahe long before I considered migrating here.

“While I was still in primary school in Wales, one teacher would let me work alone in the school library. He’d give me a photograph that had been cut out of a magazine (I vividly remember one of a Viking with a burning village in the background) and let me write something about the picture while the rest of the class was working on maths or something boring. That was a formative influence. Another great teacher and mentor was my secondary school English teacher Ken Walsh, who read to us from Alan Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ and various Ted Hughes and R.S. Thomas poems in class.

“I’ve always loved books, but it was almost certainly discovering Russell Hoban’s extraordinary books in the early 1980s that convinced me I wanted to be a writer.”

What is it that so impresses you about Hoban’s writing?

“He speaks to me on a frequency I’m tuned into. What he’s said about the ‘limited reality consensus’ we all live by, whether unconsciously or consciously, rings true — the sheer strangeness of existence we deny in order to pay the rent and get mundane things done. The fact that you and I are in different places having a ‘conversation’ about this right now is deeply and inarguably odd.

“It takes you all your life to learn what you’ve learned about great art. And one of the innumerable things Russ’s writing has taught me is that it’s impossible to imitate art. What I mean by that is that, even if you can figure out how to mimic someone’s phrasing and style, it’ll always be second-rate because it wasn’t your idea. You can’t deliver it with the totality and completeness of the creator.

“This applies to writers as much as it does to musicians. I’ve almost made a life’s study of Jaco Pastorius’ basslines. Even dissecting them and playing them back at the same pitch but half speed — which every learning musician can now do, thanks to digital technology — there’s an almost imperceptible ‘invisible’ quality between the notes, under the moment, something about the way he constructed and executed his lines that makes it impossible to impersonate every phrase exactly or write it down. Musicians who’ve studied Miles’ playing or Bird or Coltrane will know what I mean. To be brutal, it means only other musicians or writers can appreciate their peers at this level, and it distances artists from the average listener. As a writer, your ear is everything.

“I’ve always learned by absorption. Either that, or what skill I have was in my genetic code from the start.”

What adage do you aspire to live by?

“A couple spring to mind: ‘Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work’. Gustave Flaubert said that, and it applies equally to the work of both Frank Zappa and Russell Hoban. Just the other day, thanks to a member of the group of Hoban fans known as The Kraken, I stumbled on this from The Life and Work of Martha Graham:

‘There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.’

“I’d dearly love to have the courage to live by that adage.”

You’re a musician as well as a writer. Is it difficult to find the time and energy to do both, or do you find the two complementary?

“These days I treat playing music purely as a hobby and a therapeutic form of relaxation in an Oliver Sachs way, rather than a profession, which it was back in the 1980s. I find the two complementary in the sense that almost all of my stories have either been inspired by music or were written while there was music playing. ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ was the exception, but you’ll see that every story in The Bumper Book of Lies has a recommended soundtrack, suitable for listening to while reading it.

“In the 1980s I was fortunate enough to play bass in a couple of bands in front of audiences at the original Marquee Club on Wardour Street, the Hippodrome in Charing Cross Road and the Camden Palace. I’d played the working-man’s club circuit in the Northeast of England before that, for my sins, sometimes going on before the strippers stripped and the hot pies were served.

“Then, later, I had a job as entertainment relations manager for Gibson Guitars and met and did endorsement work with musicians I remembered from my childhood and adolescence, such as the jazz guitarists Joe Pass and Larry Coryell. Joe was a legend I remembered from his many appearances on the Michael Parkinson chat show while I was growing up. I got to spend quite a bit of time with Joe at the Frankfurt Music Fair, and at the Gibson showroom in Hamburg I was able to present him with an Epiphone Emperor guitar. He was cantankerous, temperamental and brilliant and liked a good cigar — especially a free one.”

What would you like to tell those potential readers who may not be familiar with your work about your short story collection The Bumper Book of Lies and your novel Liquidambar?

Visit my website, then buy and read them. My writing won’t appeal to every reader, but if you’re willing to let me take you on a journey you might enjoy where we get to at the other end — especially if you enjoy reading Mervyn Peake, Russell Hoban, Martin Amis, Franz Kafka and George Orwell while listening to Frank Zappa and Robert Johnson. A cursory knowledge of US artist Edward Hopper’s paintings wouldn’t go amiss.

“There are recurring themes and influences in my work. Liquidambar was not only inspired by the works of Hopper, it takes its chapter titles from 12 of his most famous paintings. I connected characters who looked like the subjects of other paintings in order to make a surreal, Chandleresque detective story, in which a washed-up journalist, Typo Blod, becomes an unwilling and unlikely ‘shamus’ and falls in love with the subject of Hopper’s painting ‘Summertime’.

“I’m proud of many of the stories in The Bumper Book of Lies. It’s a mix of genres, from the surreal to fantasy and science fiction, and they date from 1983 to around 1995. Most have been published somewhere in the world.”

You moved from England to New Zealand . Do you now feel yourself to be part of the (or at least of a) New Zealand literary scene? If not, is that a concern to you?

“I’d lived in Hamburg, Germany for around 12 years before I emigrated here. In spite of having worked for two years as contract editor of the New Zealand Society of Authors' bi-monthly print publication 'The Author', I feel utterly disconnected from the New Zealand literary scene. The sole example I can give you of any kind of networking with the Kiwi literati is that I follow Emily Perkins and Chad Taylor on Twitter and vice versa. But I’ve never belonged to or felt the need to belong to any kind of scene in any country.”

Which writers or other artists have been the major influences on you, and which writers do you especially enjoy reading now?

“Russell Hoban, Mervyn Peake, Richard Brautigan, Sam Shepard for his short fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, Billy Collins. I’ve been enjoying re-reading George Orwell lately, Keep The Aspidistra Flying, as well as the non-fiction works such as Down and Out In Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia and The Road To Wigan Pier. I also admire Martin Amis, especially London Fields, and Alain de Botton’s writing on philosophy.”

Which writing-related project are you especially proud of?

“To coincide with London-based and US-born writer Russell Hoban’s 80th birthday in 2005, I edited and contributed to the commemorative book 80!, which was published by Bloomsbury in the UK and supported by Liz Calder. The book and most of the accompanying merchandise were designed by my girlfriend Elisa, and the entire project was a joy from start to finish (apart from a scary interlude during which we lost all our page layouts in a hard drive crash and didn’t have a backup).

This project culminated in Hoban fans from around the world — brought together almost entirely by goodwill and the galvanising force of the internet — travelling to London for a weekend of Hoban-related festivities; including a coach trip to Canterbury, scene of some of the action in his novel Riddley Walker, and a very moving reading from the book in the cathedral’s crypt, by Eli Bishop, who maintains the Riddley Walker annotations website.

I encourage everyone who’s interested in discovering a life-changing body of work to read Hoban’s Kleinzeit, followed by Riddley Walker and what I consider to be his masterpiece, Pilgermann. Expect to be changed.”

What are you listening to at the moment?

“A perennial in my iTunes library is Scottish songwriter and former Doll By Doll frontman Jackie Leven, an inspiration to the writer Ian Rankin in his book Jackie Leven Said. There’s something about Scottish music, apparently: I also love The Blue Nile, and I’m currently overdosing on Justin Currie, the former Del Amitri frontman, who has just released another solo album, The Great War. What else can I tell you? Jaco-era Weather Report, John Martyn, Van Morrison, The Strawbs... I could go on, as you can tell.”

Book availablity

The Bumper Book of Lies is available from Chris Bell's website.

Liquidambar is available from Chris Bell's website, from Amazon UK, and from Amazon US.

Chris says: My blog posts appear here (although the site is currently down, as our director-general was too miserly to pay the hosting fee!): www.NZBC.net.nz

13 July 2010

Tuesday Poem: Two Kinds of Time, by Meliors Simms

Two Kinds of Time

In some universes
time is experienced as linear.
Individuals move through their lives
cutting a track into their possibilities
and paving it into permanence behind them.
Aware only of the winding road they have chosen,
looking backwards down the line from now to birth
looking forward into the obscure thicket of the future
sometimes, peripherally aware of a bare hint
of what if's as what isn't.

In some universes
time is experienced as a plane.
Beings move around their existence
as an intimate landscape
treading and retreading every possibility.
Learning their lives as a farmer learns her land,
choosing every choice
exploring every opening,
until through preference
a rut is worn in the familiar
a dwelling in just one favourite moment or cycle of moments
a resting place from their endless wanderings.

When you sleep
these universes meet in your dreams.
Time leaks across the boundaries
so you can know a little
of the strange ways of linearity or planearity;
whichever is most unfamiliar to you.

Tim says:

Meliors Simms' "Two Kinds of Time" is one of the more philosophical poems that Mark Pirie and I included in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand.

Mark and I weren't the only ones to recognise its virtues: "Two Kinds of Time" was nominated in the Best Short Poem category of the annual Rhysling Awards for the best speculative poetry of 2009, and is therefore included in the 2010 Rhysling Anthology, published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

The Rhysling award winners have just been announced - congratulations to the winners and placegetters - and "Two Kinds of Time" was not among them, but it's still a great tribute to Meliors and to this poem that it was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Voyagers cover

You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from New Zealand Books Abroad, or Fishpond.

You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Find lots more Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

08 July 2010

A Foreign Country. A Poetry Archive. The Manhire Prize. Ecopoesis.

A Foreign Country

What with revising my novel and finishing my poetry collection manuscript, I haven't written many short stories lately — but I'm very pleased that a new story of mine is appearing in A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, an anthology from Random Static Press that's being published in August and is available for pre-order now.

The lineup of authors is:

Philip Armstrong
, Richard Barnes, Claire Brunette, Anna Caro, Matt Cowens, Bill Direen, Dale Elvy, J.C. Hart, Paul Haines, Miriam Hurst, Tim Jones, Susan Kornfeld, Juliet Marillier, Lee Murray, James Norcliffe, Ripley Patton, Simon Petrie, Brian Priestley, Marama Salsano, Lee Sentes, Janine Sowerby, and Douglas A. Van Belle.

A Foreign Country is being launched at Au Contraire, but there is no need to wait till then - remember you can pre-order online.

The Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa (PANZA) Goes Public

The Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa (PANZA) is going public this month. Here are the launch details:

Venue: St Anne's School Room, 79 Northland Road (next door to the Poetry Archive at 1 Woburn Road, Northland, Wellington).

Time: 2-3pm

Date: Sunday, 25 July 2010

Books Launched by: Nelson Wattie

As well as the official opening, two new poetry books are being launched:

The Pop Artist's Garland: Selected Poems 1952-2009 by F W N Wright (HeadworX) and Rail Poems of NZ Aotearoa edited by Mark Pirie (PANZA/ESAW).

Special launch price of $15.00 for both books (Rail Poems of NZ Aotearoa is the first publication by PANZA's publishing arm and is a free giveaway with The Pop Artist's Garland).

No EFTPOS available. Please pay by cash or cheque.

Please visit the Poetry Archive web site. It includes information about the Archive, how to get there and how to use it, as well as our catalogue of NZ poetry related items. Feel free to drop by and make a donation or have a look around. Visits by appointment only.

The Manhire Prize

This year's Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing is focusing on the mind. Here's the official word from the press release:

New Zealand writers challenged to focus on the mind

The country’s only literary award for science writing is reflecting the Royal Society of New Zealand’s move to take the humanities under its wing.

The Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing has celebrated success since it started in 2007 by encouraging writers with an interest in science. This year the topic ‘The Mind’ is designed to encourage entrants to consider the human aspect as well.

Prize-winning poet and fiction writer, Bill Manhire, after whom the competition is named says “We are centering this year’s competition around a quote from Milton - ’The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n’.

“We think this will allow entrants to explore the links between the brain, the heart and the personality.”

Past winners of the award include Alison Ballance, Tina Makereti and Dave Armstrong, who is this year’s judge. Dave has enjoyed success both for screen and stage. His recent play Le Sud is currently touring around the country to sold-out audiences. He has also penned three Chapman Tripp Award winning plays ((Niu Sila, The Tutor, where we once belonged) and has worked with Te Papa Museum and various experts to translate science into story.

There are two categories for the competition, fiction and non-fiction. Winners from each category are awarded a cash prize of $2500 and winning entries are printed in the New Zealand Listener.

Entry forms can be found in the Listener and on the Royal Society of New Zealand’s website. Closing date for entries is 10 September 2010.


Finally, here is an excellent poem about the terraforming of Mars. I think Kim Stanley Robinson would approve.

06 July 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Wrong Horse

The Wrong Horse

The pleasures of the text are the pleasures of spring.
Halter tops, tanned skin, buttocks
sashaying past an open office door.
You pack your books away.

The self is conceived as a structure of signifiers.
Thirty years at the chalk-face,
a dozen published books,
twenty to life in the M.L.A.

The forms of nature order themselves in codes.
Wine and juice, finger food,
a bound edition of Baudrillard,
a speech from the Head of School.

To repeat excessively is to enter into loss.
You will haunt the Library, play golf,
back the wrong horse
into the descending zero of the sun.

First published in New Zealand Books, Autumn 2007.

Tim says: The lines beginning the second, third and fourth stanzas are quoted or adapted from the works of, respectively, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), and Roland Barthes (1915-1980), all of whom were important precursors of or contributors to academic postmodernism, which flourished in university humanities departments worldwide between the 1960s and 1990s.

The M.L.A. is the Modern Language Association, the US-based professional association for literary critics and theoreticians, renowned for its annual conventions.

I used to work in a University, though I was never a lecturer, but I have observed members of the species at comparatively close quarters. Alison Bechdel's Professor Sydney Krukowski and her similarly inclined father also helped to plant the seeds for this poem.

01 July 2010

Can Urban Foraging and Radical Self Help Kickstart the End of Capitalism? Douglas Lain Intends To Find Out

Douglas Lain is a US writer and podcaster with whom I collaborated on a petition against the US invasion of Iraq, though we have never quite got round to collaborating on a story. Doug's latest venture should be of interest to writers of all stripes, and to people interested in Transition Towns, community resilience, and urban foraging besides: he is "crowdsourcing" the funding of a radical self-help guide to urban foraging, and you can help by contributing up to the deadline of Wednesday 14 July.

So, Doug, tell us what it's all about!

Q: What is “Pick Your Battle?”

A: It’s the title of the radical self-help book that I’m seeking funding to produce, but more than that it’s something everybody needs to do. That isn’t to say that everybody needs to turn their attention to urban foraging and psychogeography, although that might not be a bad thing. It’s just that Industrial Capitalism has been on a collision course with reality for a long time now. Certainly for as long as I’ve been alive there has been a pervasive if denied realization that the economic and social systems we live inside of are inhumane, destructive, and ultimately unsustainable.

Q: Why urban foraging?

A: Because it’s simple. The plants and trees are already there, the food is being wasted, and it presents the forager with an opportunity to interact with the environment and community in new and spontaneous ways. I do not advocate any romantic notion of returning to our hunter/gatherer past, but do advocate changing our relationships so that this kind of activity could play a role in everyday life.

Q: Psychogeography? What is that?

A: Psychogeography was a technique developed by the Situationist International in the 50s, a technique for urban wandering and discovery. By moving through the urban landscape, by allowing themselves to be led by the contours and implications of the built environment around them, the Situationists made discoveries about the way different parts of Paris were designed to have different psychological impacts. The main thrust of psychogeography was to discover how our built environment limits our creative activities. A couple of quotes from the Situationist Theorist Guy Debord illustrates the point nicely:

“When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself. The ambiance of play is by nature unstable. At any moment, “ordinary life” may prevail once again. The geographical limitation of play is even more striking than its temporal limitation. Every game takes place within the boundaries of its own spatial domain.”

“The atmosphere of a few places gave us a few intimations of the future powers of an architecture that it would be necessary to create in order to provide the setting for less mediocre games.”

Q: What is Kickstarter and how does it work?

A: Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, and so on… Successful Kickstarter campaigns include David Branin’s film Goodbye Promise, Megan Quicke’s Coffee Adventure Book, Melissa Gira Gran and Meaghan O’Connell’s book Coming and Crying: Real Stories about Sex, and Ted Rall’s Comix Journalism project. A Kickstarter project receives pledges from backers who want to see the project succeed, but if the project doesn’t meet its funding goal no money changes hands. It’s an all our nothing situation. The maximum number of days a Kickstarter campaign can last is 90. The Pick Your Battle deadline is July 14th, 2010.

Q: What will you do with the money you raise?

A: The money raised will go to printing, distributing, and promoting the book. A bit of the money will go to living expenses as I organize various foraging projects, radical field trips, and take the time to write.

Q: What kind of writer are you? Your novel is coming out with Tor. That’s a science fiction publisher, right?

A: Right. I am a science fiction writer. I’m also a journalist, a fantasy writer, a literary writer (on my good days), a blogger, a philosopher, propagandist, and so on… These genres are useful for focussing ones mind, but they don’t constrain me or how I approach writing.

Q: Why urban foraging? That’s not really your thing, is it?

A: Dmitry Orlov, the author of Reinventing Collapse, points out that one mitigating factor for people when the Soviet Union collapsed was the prevalence of Kitchen Gardens. Alternative forms of agriculture and increasing self-sufficiency should be everybody’s thing.

For years the bio I’ve attached to my various fiction projects has read: “Douglas Lain recognizes that he is a member of the entertained public — a public that Guy Debord described in his 1978 film In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni as ‘dying in droves on the freeways, and in each flu epidemic and each heat wave, and with each mistake of those who adulterate their food, and each technical innovation profitable to the numerous entrepreneurs for whose environmental developments they serve as guinea pigs.’”

The Pick Your Battle project is my attempt to move beyond cynical recognition of my condition.