What they wrote
A taste of contributor comments over our first 20 years
On New Zealand Books
My hope is that New Zealand Books will provide a forum for frank discussion that dares to rise above the suffocating confines of the Middle Kingdom.
Iain Sharp, April 1991
My patience with your journal is wearing thin. It is dreary, worthy, earnest and in danger of dying of dignity.
Diane Hebley, Winter 1993
Your self-proclaimed overseas models, such as the New York Review of Books, would never publish such provincial stuff.
Nelson Wattie, December 1994
Because of the kind of poetry I write, I would never expect a good review in New Zealand Books.
Murray Edmond, March 1995
New Zealand Books, being predominantly a reviews journal, might be described, a little uncharitably, as the rear end of Brasch’s Landfall.
Iain Sharp, March 1993
On writers and writing
We seek it here, we seek it there. That damn’d elusive cuddlerug of national identity.
Dale Williams, December 2001
To some degree all writing is a tossing off of bits of bread as we walk further and further into the dark forest.
Peter Wells, October 2003
About once a year … various people get up on their hind legs and accuse our writers for children and young adults of sullying kids’ innocence. … It nearly always starts from the premise that young readers inhabit an innocent, pre-lapsarian world, whose borders all responsible adults must defend.
David Hill, March 2001
In the Postmodern Era, Truth in Autobiography is the name for a slightly more permanent way of construing the flow of incoming data we call life. That’s as good as it gets, folks.
Anne French, June 2002
The old stories … no longer ring true. … Now the meandering and muddled stories we mumble to ourselves are of bewilderment, resentment, cynicism, squabbles and fear. Our writers are among the prime mumblers.
Colin James, October 2001
Who would have guessed Katherine Mansfield would turn out to be such a goer? By the time she died of tuberculosis at 34, she had accumulated enough bounders, jackanapes, imposters and losers to make any contemporary woman feel she hadn’t tried hard enough.
Linley Boniface, June 2005
Have you ever met a serial killer? No? Strange – judging by the content of our bookstores, you’d think there’d be one in every street.
Bernard Carpinter, Winter 2007
People often talk about the divisive back-stabbing nature of the writing community, and sometimes they’re right. But whenever a much-loved literary figure dies, the sense of belonging to a kind of family strikes us all.
Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway on the deaths of Janet Frame and Michael King, June 2004
I would say we get exactly what we deserve.
Bill Manhire asked whether we publish too much poetry and fiction, June 2000
New Zealanders have been slow to see that comic writing can also be intellectually rewarding.
Mark Williams, December 2004
Biography writing is not an objective process, and the definitive biography is an oxymoron.
Hilary Stace, Winter 2007
[T]here are far too many writers banging on about the exact colour of rivers and sky, and the movement of shadows, and, god help us, the type of trees, and not nearly enough who are prepared to think up an engaging story and attempt to tell it using words as daringly unpretentious as beautiful.
Linley Boniface, December 2004
On reviews and reviewers
I let critics criticise. It’s all they’re good at. They have to gain their dubious status from somewhere, so why not at the (often) expense of the real doers, the writers?
Alan Duff, August 1994
There are times when the act of reviewing in an almost supernatural way releases the psychopath inside seemingly well-brought up, pearls-and-tweed people. Suddenly, dribbling bile, these darker selves attack as if they’ve been skulking in the bushes until a particular writer passes by.
Barbara Else, August 2001
Your “bovver boy” reviewers … think they can kick a book with steel-capped boots and the result will not be an author lying in a gutter with his or her creativity leaking out their ears.
Alan Knowles, March 1992
It can be argued that in judging any book we are always really judging the character of the author – at least as he or she appears to us through the writing.
William Brandt, August 2004
We … editors don’t knowingly set up a book or its author for a hiding. … if authors do get shafted, it’s most likely to be the result of cock-up, not conspiracy.
Bill Sewell and Harry Ricketts, October 2001
There’s a particular satisfaction in reviewing – appreciatively – a writer’s first book. Unreasonably, you give yourself some credit for discovery.
Sue McCauley, August 2005
Most writers I know … never forgive a negative review. They hold a grudge against the reviewer for all eternity.
Iain Sharp, Winter 1993
The day can’t be far off when authors start lobbying for the right to subpoena all correspondence between book-page editors and reviewers under the Official Information Act.
Guy Somerset, October 2005
[Your reviewer] has caught his pants in a paradigm shift in the understanding of Singapore’s “miracle”, and his review is an emotional squeal.
Christopher Tremewan, June 1998
So that’s that. I suppose what you want now is for me to tell you plainly what I think of it. You want to know if it’s any good and if you ought to spend $27.95 on it. Well, I’m sorry but you’ve got the wrong bloke here. I have my own insecurities to deal with and, in any case, this isn’t that kind of review.
Chris Else on Charlotte Randall’s Within the Kiss, October 2002
At last a Maori writer has managed to hang out all the dirty Maori washing with some kind of dignity and at the same time place the blame where it belongs.
Bruce Stewart on Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, April 1991
This book could have done with a more brutal application of an editor’s filleting knife.
Tom Beard on Kevin Ireland’s Skinning a Fish,December 1994
I learned a great deal from this book’s explicitness. To put it frivolously, I always wondered if cocks collided. They do. The nude male beaches which from time to time I accidentally run through will now mean more to me, even if I do still gaze at the horizon and think of England.
Roger Robinson on Witi Ihimaera’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain,March 1995
Thus, with no further ado, I proudly declare Full Circle Book of the Year. For 1971.
John Campbell on Bob Jones’s Full Circle: A Modern Morality Tale, December 2000
The most damning indictment of self-help books is the fact that the author of the classic of the genre, I’m OK, You’re OK, committed suicide. Obviously he wasn’t OK. You might not be either. But it is going to take more than a book to fix it.
Jane Stafford, June 1995
The authors appear to be annexing Sybil Fawlty’s specialist topic, The Bleeding Obvious: pea pie and pud; rugby’s been popular; we won a yacht race.
Dale Williams on Kiwiana! The Sequel by Richard Wolfe and Stephen Barnett, December 2001
During the early 1960s Patrick White wrote an admiring letter to Janet Frame; she replied 22 years later.
Charles Ferrall on Mark Williams’s Patrick White, Summer 1993
Imagine 1980s Doris Lessing crossed with Bret Easton Ellis and you’re some way to imagining what this book reads like.
Chris Knox on Karyn Hay’s Emerald Budgies, March 2001
This is a small book, 80 pages in all, which is entirely appropriate … Indeed, had it been strictly confined to the limits suggested by the title, the whole work could well have been over in a paragraph or two.
Hamish Keith on Bronwen Nicholson et al’s Gauguin and Maori Art, December 1995
I no longer want to hear the old destructive myths. Allen Curnow may write all the books of verse he likes, but I am not listening any more.
Heather Murray on The Bells of Saint Babel’s: Poems 1997-2001, August 2001
I do think it’s a mistake to put the world “shocking” on any book. I’ll decide, thank you very much, whether it’s shocking.
Linda Burgess on I See Red: The Shocking Story of a Battle against the Warehouse by Judith Bell aka Stephen Tindall, Winter 2007
What is so fascinating about the Holmes story is that Holmes not only becomes his own human interest story but he starts to enthrone himself as well. … the inference is that Holmes is like Diana. Holmes is the Queen of Hearts.
Jane Bowron on Paul Holmes’s Holmes, December 1999
Shadbolt beat her to the draw, but Duckworth has fired the last bullet.
Heather Murray on Marilyn Duckworth’s Camping on the Faultline: A Memoir, August 2000