Wednesday, May 6, 2015


We have a couple of sheep in our home paddock and because there was a drought over summer we've also let them graze on the driveway which can be inconvenient when walking down to the rural mail box to get the daily newspaper. There are little round hard sheep balls, thousands of them. Not so good to get that sh*t on your shoes if you're off to town to a literary soiree.
OK if you have remembered and are wearing your gumboots.
This is what they look like, more or less.
From above anyway.
But fancy that, one particular pile of poo turned out to be some sort of fungi.
I just knew you would like to share this discovery.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The best new New Zealand fiction


 The best of the best: three new releases from three accomplished New Zealand novelists, and these three novels make excellent companions for each other on my NZ Lit book shelf. All are must-reads in my opinion.

Bangs (Penguin NZ, May 2013) by Stevan Eldred-Grigg reviewed for the NZ Herald by Stephanie Johnson. Stevan Eldred-Grigg spoke to Lynn Freeman of Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday. Reviewed for the NZ Listener by John McCrystal (behind a paywall).
What a treat - another instalment in the important and much loved Oracles and Miracles social history/saga.
It's dark, and you are left wanting more.
In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame (Text Publishing, May 2013) reviewed for the NZ Herald by Paula Green.
Also reviewed for The Australian by Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded blog, and Ngaire Atmore for BookieMonster.
A hilarious black comedy with hidden depths, posthumously published because it suited Janet Frame not to reveal all her cards at once. I think it's brilliant. I'm probably biased since I co-edited it, but mine seems to be the majority view.
The Writing Class (Random House NZ, May 2013) by Stephanie Johnson reviewed for the NZ Herald by Nicky Pellegrino, featured in the NZ Woman's Weekly book club, and reviewed for Radio NZ National by David Hill.
Very sharply observed and cleverly structured; a novel masquerading as a writing manual (or vice versa) and quite satisfying in both respects.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Couch potato

The Tabbyssinian is not much of a reader. He loves the nature shows on the telly, though.

Do not neglect the classics

Here's a post-Xmas pile of books, in case you're interested. I'm always intrigued by what other people are reading, and love to take a sly or obvious look at what they choose to put on their bookshelves, in real life or on the internet.

I've been known to get a magnifying glass out so I can peruse the bookshelves in a magazine photograph.

And I love it when people put an image of their latest pile of bedside reading on their blogs or wherever the pix go these days.

This pile had some classics in it. The one I want to single out just now is The Book of Secrets by the magnificent Fiona Kidman. This evergreen that has never been out of print since first publication in 1987 has recently been reissued in a new edition and has become a bestseller all over again. I had never read it before (not being naturally drawn to historical fiction, although I am overcoming that prejudice by discovering that the genre doesn't entirely consist of sentimental nonsense and bodice-ripping). I was in for a great pleasure, a good read, and a learning experience about a clearly well-researched topic: the settlement of Waipu by a religious community. Another superb work of literary/historical fiction by Fiona Kidman that I can recommend is The Captive Wife.

Everyone's a kid at Xmas

The Christmas pile. I know. Lucky huh? And what is it now, March? April?! Well actually I got through quite a bit of recreational reading over the glorious summer break. We didn't know it was a drought back then, so it was just an enjoyably uncomplicated long stretch of wonderful weather able to be savoured without guilt at the plight of the farmers and the wildlife and the water catchments.

One of the pile of treasured volumes that came into my life around Christmas time was The Margaret Mahy Treasury (Puffin, 2012) a lovely large hard cover illustrated edition of eleven of Margaret's most well-known and well-loved stories. With a CD of her reading some of them! Who could resist? Not me. Every now and then I read a story aloud to the bloke. It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Schroedinger's cat is alive!

According to New Scientist (3 October 2012):

"Schr̦dinger's cat, the enduring icon of quantum mechanics, has been defied. By making constant but weak measurements of a quantum system, physicists have managed to probe a delicate quantum state without destroying it Рthe equivalent of taking a peek at Schrodinger's metaphorical cat without killing it."

The Tabby (above) illustrates the breakthrough.

The boss cat

Body language says, I own the show.

Some more photos of a louche chap who very quickly took over the running of the show - commandeering the favourite chair, encroaching upon the favourite pillow at night, and dominating the available table or desk space. Do we mind? Nah-ah. It's a privilege, little fellow.

A Tabby at My Table

The Tabbyssinian is a law unto himself. Old Tabby was not allowed on tables and she knew to keep off them (if we were watching). New Tabby is a force of nature, heavier than the upper limit of a piece of allowable cabin baggage (7 kilos), and strong enough to batter open French doors and cupboard doors, and to hook a paw into sliding doors and shunt them open sideways. While he is awake, he never stops his enquiries, his inspections, his offers of help. Keep him off the table? Don't even think about it. In fact, place a nice woolly blanket there for when he's in the 'off' position.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Uncomfortably close encounters.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Truth Garden

The Truth Garden by Emma Neale
Otago University Press 2012

Poet and novelist Emma Neale, winner of the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry 2011, was Robert Burns Fellow 2012, inaugural holder of the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature (2008) and is the author of five novels (all published by Random House), four collections of poetry, the latest of which is pictured above (with a beautiful cover illustration by artist Kathryn Madill). She has edited three anthologies and her work has appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies. Her most recent novel Fosterling was shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. She has won the Takahe Poetry Competition (2008) and been awarded a Todd New Writers Bursary (2000).

Emma Neale is another fine South island writer who is very much a part of the contemporary New Zealand literary scene, but, not as it is apparently defined from within the narrow perspective of the ivory towers of Wellington. In reviewing Fosterling (2011), Paula Green noted "I do think Neale is one of those New Zealand writers who has undeservedly fallen under the radar. Fosterling is testament to her virtuosity with words. She writes with intelligence, heart and a poet's lyricism. Highly recommended."

Meanwhile, while the offical record book radar coverage of New Zealand Literature is out of commission and being upgraded, let us watch Emma Neale's audience continue to grow...

March is New Zealand Book Month - support New Zealand books!
Pick up your $5 voucher, see the website for details:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Going off half cocked

There was a lesson for all of us last week mixed up in the hysterical tabloid response to Hilary Mantel's alleged "nasty attack on Kate".

Read to the end. To the very end. Or if you don't want to bother stretching your brain cells that far, then please spare us your misinformed opinion and your misrepresentations of the author's intention.

'A story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy' Guardian

'Hilary Mantel and the pitfalls of the public lecture' New Yorker

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Quietly Astonishing Blurbs

Shift by Rhian Gallagher (Auckland University Press 2011)
Winner of the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry 2012

Magnificent Moon by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press 2012) Has to be a favourite for the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry 2013

Poems by two New Zealand women who have both lived as expats in London and returned home. Both studied creative writing under Bill Manhire at Victoria University. Both books are published by university presses. What else do they have in common?

Well, this: their back cover blurbs both contain the description astonishing modified by a form of the word quiet.

"For ten years the occasional appearance of an Ashleigh Young poem has teased and delighted her growing circle of admirers. Here at last is her quietly astonishing first book." (VUP 2012)

"According to Bill Manhire, Rhian Gallagher is one of the quiet, astonishing secrets of New Zealand writing." (AUP 2011)

There is one astonishing thing that Rhian Gallagher and Ashleigh Young do not have in common: Ashleigh Young's work was included in the highly controversial 'Anthology' of New Zealand Literature published by AUP in 2012. Some commentators liken the list of inclusions in the oversized contemporary section of this unwieldy volume as reading more like the personal cocktail party invite list of the married couple editors, Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, who both lecture at Victoria University, than as a fair and representative sample of the best of recent New Zealand writing. It does seem bizarre to have included Young, who had not quite published her first book at that point, at the apparent expense of including work by AUP poet Gallagher in an AUP volume! Gallagher's third book, and her second poetry volume Shift was also fresh from having won the NZ Post prize for best poetry book at the 2012 national book awards. Her first volume, published in the UK, had been shortlisted for the prestigious Forward Prize. The fact that the South Island based Rhian Gallagher has apparently remained a secret to the Wellington-based anthology editors is indeed astonishing, and her work is just one of the many deafening omissions by the editors in the "AUP Anthology". I think it's more accurate to call it a "cultural compendium" than an "anthology of literature" since so many of the editorial choices have been illustrative of arbitrarily imposed cultural and historical themes rather than having been chosen because they were the best pieces by the best authors. Such an impressionistic project would not in itself be a bad idea; but unfortunately the reality of the idiosyncratic miscellany that AUP has produced conflicts with the stated aims on the cover of the 'doorstop' (more unkindly referred to as a 'white elephant'):  "In fiction and non-fiction, letters and speeches, stories and song, the editors unearth the diverse voices of the New Zealand imagination. And for years to come this anthology will be our guide to what’s worth reading – and why." Nope - sorry - that is false advertising.

My own take on the AUP Anthology is that endless debates concerning the omissions will not be as helpful as would be an analysis of the flaws of the methodology which led to the notable omissions. I have listed dozens of names that are missing, that are equally as deserving of inclusion as many of the favoured writers. There will always be the ins and the outs resulting from personal taste, fashion, elitism, parochialism, cronyism, the gaps in the editorial knowledge, even perhaps the personal animosities, that will influence the selection process, although some of these factors seem to have operated excessively in this case. What also seems to be different in the production of this 'anthology' is that the editors frequently appear to have rejected an author's best work in favour of lesser squibs or vignettes that fitted in with their own theoretical framework. This may give an evocative snapshot of the country from the perspective of the towers of Victoria University, but it cannot claim to represent our literature.

PS Please don't imagine I am suggesting that Ashleigh Young's work is not worthy to represent the latest and the greatest. In fact I would put money on her magnificent debut outclassing the output of some of her former teachers and mentors. That's the way it rolls.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A time for everything

The abandoned sleep of the domestic cat has much to teach us of letting go and letting be. But don't think of them as laissez-faire, no no no! They can spring up at a split second's notice if conditions warrant it.

Moa birds!


Look what I got for Christmas. I know, lucky.
This would be my pick for Book of the Year in the NZ Post Book Awards, by a country mile, or it would be if it were eligible. Unfortunately, both Buller and Keulemans share the unfortunate circumstance of being long dead which apparently disqualifies their work from consideration, whether or not live editors have slaved away at the compilation of the content. That's the way it works on the literary side of the ledger, anyway, where posthumously published work has been in recent years declared ineligible, in a decision arguably aimed specifically at excluding Janet Frame's work from award nominations. Last year the new rules excluded all edited volumes of work by dead authors such as selections of letters and anthologies (coincidentally there was one book disqualified in 2012: an anthology of Frame's non-fiction). In earlier years, compilations of the writings of dead authors (eg Mansfield, Hyde, etc) were included for consideration. I wonder if edited volumes will be excluded this year or if the new new rules have been tweaked once again to allow specific books to be declared "in" or "out" depending on literary politics.

Buller’s Birds of New Zealand: The complete work of JG Keulemans.
Publication date: October 2012
Foreword by Stephen Fry
Publisher: Te Papa Press

Paw Justice

PAW JUSTICE - helping to prevent animal abuse and to encourage responsible pet ownership.

Get Ready - Get Through

The agency cat files himself away with the emergency supplies which are kept on a high shelf because the most likely natural disaster that we will experience at our new location is a flood. He has located the packets of milk and looks a little worried that the humans have perhaps not been attending to the fast approaching issue of expiring use-by dates.

See the New Zealand disaster preparedness website: GET READY GET THRU where you will find hints like:

"Check and replace food and water every twelve months. Consider stocking a two-week supply of food and water for prolonged emergencies such as a pandemic."

And don't forget pet food!

What moa do you need to know?

Haha, silly pun, sorry. I have just bought this informative and entertaining tome about the extinct moa, that I always think of as a giant chicken, because I keep remembering my first trip out of New Zealand, to [Western] Samoa, where I learnt that the Polynesian name for 'chicken' is: moa. So I always imagine the reaction of those Polynesian voyagers who first arrived and settled in God's Own Long White Cloud, when they saw the largest of the moa, naively grazing and looking delicious: "Wow! Look at that humungous chicken!" And I think that for those first Kiwis the name moa was perhaps, almost a joke...

But obviously I need to read the book and find out what the latest scholarship is on the naming of the moa, and everything else of course. And what a reasonable price it is for such a weighty volume (1.61 kg) - with such high production values - $50! How do they do it?

Moa: The Life and Death of New Zealand's Legendary Bird by Quint Berentson, published by Craig Potton, 2012. Hardback with jacket.

I attended the launch of this book a few days ago at the premises of Dunedin's distinguished Natural History New Zealand where the author celebrated with his colleagues, family and friends, members of the publishing and book selling industry and other well-wishers.

"It’s a serious book about a popular subject and will fill a real gap in our natural history literature," says publisher Robbie Burton. "It’s a fascinating story and an important book that richly recounts and illustrates the life and death of the giant bird."

Read a review from the Otago Daily Times here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Primary Colours

I'd like to recommend two of my favourite novels from 2012: Red Rocks and The Yellow Birds.

Red Rocks is a children's book by New Zealand author Rachael King. It's aimed at about the ten to twelve year age group (I think) but could be happily read to or by, younger kids or older teenagers, and of course as with all well written children's literature, it is enjoyable for an adult to read as well.
Most tantalising for those who know Rachael King's history (coming as she does from a family numbering more than one or two well known New Zealanders) is that for some of the plot, she appears to draw from her own life experiences of living in a divided and then reconstituted family. She has great emotional riches to draw from and she transforms the bounty into a form that will resonate for those who have been through similar challenges and joys. So in part, this is an 'issues' book - and the bugbear of bullying also rears its ugly head in this story - but it is not just an issues book. There is also a marvellous fantastic and mysterious element woven into the narrative, an antipodean evocation of a Selkie story. I was reminded of Maurice Duggan's wonderful Falter Tom and the Water Boy (1957).

I shouldn't need to introduce my other favourite novel The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. I never thought I would even want to read a book on the subject matter of Americans fighting in Iraq and their return home afterwards. But having heard all the "fuss", the "hype", about how brilliant it was, especially for a debut novel, I picked it up in the bookstore (UBS Otago) and was immediately captivated by the beauty and clarity and poetry of the prose. Powers is a poet, and the reading experience is enhanced for me because of that. It's a heartbreaking and searing, and dare I say, important book.

"The Yellow Birds is the All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab Wars." ~ Tom Wolfe

Back to work

Happy year of the Snake! Happy 2013!

It has been a long hot summer here in the south of the South. Glorious.

Cats and people did take a break, recharge the batteries, but we're back to core business now.

Sniffing the breeze.

As Purr Usual

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Poem: 'The Gap' by Peter Olds

Under the Dundas Street Bridge
by Peter Olds
As I go into the doctor's rooms
there's a man coming out holding
what appears to be a prescription
& looking worried, like a man does
when money slips through his hands
through no fault of his own other
than he owns the gap between his
fingers that medical science, with all
its wisdom & drugs, can't fix.
Peter Olds
'The Gap' appears in the new volume Under the Dundas Street Bridge (2012) published by Steele Roberts, Wellington, New Zealand. ISBN: ISBN: 9781877577833. Price: NZ$20.
Ask your favourite bookstore to stock this title (if it doesn't already) or obtain it direct from the publisher:

 Thanks to Peter Olds for kind permission to reproduce this poem.
For more Tuesday Poems, see the Tuesday Poem blog. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Day of the Sheep

Tree dweller

 A cat a long way up a tree
 Close up
 Sniffing the breeze
Always wanting to go higher