J M Thomson: Looking forward
As we near the end of our first year we have a better sense of our purpose and direction and are able to make adjustments and changes. First, the Peppercorn Press is a registered charity and its six members give their services freely, receiving no remuneration. All outside contributors, however, are paid. When we began, we did not quite realise what the upsurge in New Zealand publishing meant in terms of the number of good and exceptional books in many fields that deserved considerate reviews. The range extended from inspired children’s books, through to innovatory works on the environment, including archaeology and gardening, to history, art, Maori culture, architecture and literature, not to mention the myriad serious studies of sociological and educational questions. New Zealand has become a highly literate society in a different way from ever before and there are no signs that this is likely to diminish significantly or cease, despite the present economic climate and an induced tendency towards pessimism and despair. For books and publishing are a counterbalancing index of the vitality of a culture and the common coinage of communication between all the arts and sciences.
Along with an intensely active publishing scene we have found that many more skilled reviewers existed than we had imagined and far more of these offer their services than, regrettably, we can at present make use of. All this is cause for rejoicing but it is also, for us, a frustration because the economics of publishing this kind of review have so far limited us to twenty pages of tightly-packed reading matter. To have gone so far has been possible thanks to the Literature Programme of the QEII Arts Council, our publisher sponsors, our patrons who have made loans or gifts and the assistance of the English Department of Massey University. We could without difficulty double our size and we could easily develop the visual side of tile journal to make effective use of the many gifted photographers, graphic and other artists jostling for recognition.
We are actively seeking sponsorship for what we think is a nationally valuable enterprise and we are seeking for ways of becoming more financially viable. To this end we have raised our subscription, originally based on an eight-page issue, to a more realistic level. Our first-year subscribers have had an unexpected bonus and we hope that when die time comes for renewal after our next issue they will bear this in mind and wish to stay with us. Also, to reflect more accurately the rhythms of New Zealand publishing, we will now appear in March, June, September and December each year, so the next number at the end of February will bear a March imprint.
In order to cover published books comprehensively we have modified meantime our original notion of commissioning longish reviews in the style of the New York Review of Books and similar publications. By doing this we can touch on a much wider variety of themes as is evident in this issue. We want soon to include at least one outstanding book published overseas each quarter and provide not only more features on writing and associated topics but also an independent forum for political and social commentary.
We believe that the issue of what kind of society New Zealand will become in the next decades is central to our role and existence. If many of the present controllers of our destiny had their way New Zealand would soon become a sleazier version of some B-grade movie, with the worst aspects of market-orientated, user-pays philosophies dominant. Every aspect of public service is under threat from education to broadcasting. The core of excellence which has lain at the heart of so many activities and achievements, Maori and Pakeha, is daily assailed and diminished by those proposing dismantling and change in the name of cost effectiveness. We support the concepts of public broadcasting, national libraries, art galleries and museums, health and educational systems. We respect the integrity of the countless individuals who have built up these entities into their present forms and by doing so created without artificial strivings, a cultural identity. We believe New Zealanders can be as innovative in administration and organisation as they are in agriculture, engineering, computing and the arts. The biggest test of all will he our ability eventually to overhaul and restructure an obsolete political system, a task which has so far defied attempts to do so in the culture that has been our role model, that of Britain. A preliminary step towards this would he the introduction of proportional representation. If other aspects of society are undergoing scrutiny why not include the political. If the analytical energies and insights applied in these pages to poetry, history and the novel were to be turned towards this task the betting is that idealism might not be the enemy of profitability as is assumed today and that constructive steps of reform would not only become apparent, but could without doubt be gradually instituted ‑ despite the breast beatings of incumbents on the way.
Meantime there are biographies, poems, novels and many kinds of practical books to be explored and assessed, symbols of high accomplishments and harbingers of things to come.
[John Mansfield Thomson was the founding editor of New Zealand Books.]