Earning our colours
Readers will have noticed that since October New Zealand Books has looked rather different. Yes, we have broken into colour and are sporting a cleaner and more striking cover, designed for us by Hamish Thompson of Whitireia Publishing. The colour will change from issue to issue in the annual cycle, but the look will remain the same.
We have also replaced the inventory of reviewers on the cover with a full contents panel on page 2. This provides a detailed overview of the reviewers and books featured in each issue, which will help readers and also future scholars locate a particular piece more easily. We like to think that many of our pieces will have more than passing interest for posterity.
For the editors, 1998 and its five issues have meant a steep learning curve. Every journal has its oven culture and publishing procedures. The culture might have been relatively familiar to us as members of the Peppercorn Press, but not the procedures. We have been most gratified therefore by the amount of support we have received in the course of the year from the Peppercorn Press, the administration and those on the production side.
In May, New Zealand Books shifted its administration back to the New Zealand Book Council (after an absence of two or three years), and the result has been an enormous burst of energy and fund of ideas for improving and promoting the journal. At the same time, the Press has taken in new members with the commercial and publishing expertise that is vital to what is largely a voluntary enterprise. The latter third of this year has also seen a marketing and publicity drive that is already bearing fruit. We are all proud of the journal and keen to see it acquire the profile it deserves.
Of course we couldn’t do any of this without our writers, both the seasoned ones and those just starting out on critical careers. We use the word “writers” rather than “reviewers” because New Zealand Books offers writing that goes beyond the review to essays ranging more widely over the subject area traversed by the book or books under review. It has not been difficult to find writers for the vast majority of the books we decide to review: many people seem flattered to be approached; some approach us. It can’t be the money although we pay competitively – it must be the reputation that New Zealand Books has built up over the years, and the fact that we allow writers enough room to really get to grips with a topic.
We in turn have been delighted by many of the contributions in 1998 and mention – by way of example only – the following particularly happy matches: David Kirk on John Hart; Owen Marshall on Ian Richards’ biography of Maurice Duggan; WH Oliver on the Treaty of Waitangi; Ginette McDonald on “60s chicks”; Jane Westaway on new fiction; and Paula Boock on Elizabeth Knox. These and others are, in our opinion, so acutely judged and such a good read that they may well find their way eventually into other publications.
Then there are the books. There is no shortage of New Zealand publications to write about. The volume is most noticeable in the areas of fiction, self-help, and Maori culture, history, politics and language. We have long since passed the stage where we could even consider reviewing everything, and now have the invidious task of being selective. So we look for what we believe are the most significant New Zealand publications of the time, and add to them – where we can – books that might suggest an interesting or novel angle to a contributor. We’re also aiming to make reviews of certain books coincide as closely as possible with their publication date, while still keeping much of our space for the more reflective pieces on books that might have been in circulation for some months.
But we also want to deviate a little from our main purpose by including items of more general interest: comment on the political environment or the literary scene, occasional columns from various parts of the globe; interviews, perhaps even a gentle gossip column. Above all, we would like to offer a more extensive and vibrant correspondence page. We simply don’t receive enough letters from readers at present – even though many the pieces we publish clearly demand a response. As we approach the holiday season, we would not only like to wish you, the readers, a happy Christmas and a prosperous 1999 – we also invite you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) “join the debate” yourselves.
Bill Sewell and Harry Ricketts