Victoria University Press
“To be a News Pig, one must be angry!” shouts Tom Milde’s cameraman, Valois Plongeur.
In fact, he’s not a News Pig; Milde’s a writer of poetry and Think Pieces with a penchant for French poets, and he’s a ring-in to cover the latest shocking gun massacre in Virginia. Milde wakes in New York with a hangover, in an empty apartment belonging to a woman he can’t remember, before getting his break to cover the biggest story in America. A foul-mouthed producer from Erewhon TV in the Plucky Little Country (somewhere near New Zealand) screams down the phone at him, and he’s warned that his network nemesis is already ahead of him in the game.
From page one, the reader’s immersed in rapid-fire, shouty, exclamation mark-fuelled language. It’s like reading the literary equivalent of machine-gun fire or a strobe light. It’s counter to the plain English encouraged in journalism, and Tim Wilson is a journalist. He started writing long-form stories at North & South magazine, and is also the author of the novel Their Faces Were Shining (which Wilson says he wrote standing up, to improve his posture) and The Desolation Angel, a collection of short stories.
But Wilson, who was US correspondent for TVNZ for 10 years, told an audience at Te Papa that this novel is a departure from his earlier works. Wilson put all the outcasts he met in New York into News Pigs, but they weren’t enough to add depth to the plot. He wanted to write it in a style that conveyed the relentless energy of New York, which he found energising. It certainly conveys pace. I found it exhausting.
There are mind blanks represented by slabs of black ink, profanities replaced with strings of punctuation, and footnotes aplenty. As a Catholic, Wilson says he doesn’t like to swear, but that news people do and, in fact, that there’s a “junkie quality” to newsrooms. In my experience, too, he’s right.
What ensues is a rollicking, adrenalin-filled journey to the mother of all television live crosses, during which Milde reminds himself, “he’s a print man, to his toenails!” Of course, when Milde arrives at the airport, there’s a hitch: “If Milde runs the whole way, he can make the live.” There are choppers, satellite trucks and an on-air stoush. There’s also a patent red shoe with flame appliques, a cult novel and, woven throughout, a story of loneliness.
Milde realises how under-dressed, how dishevelled, how generally utterly unprepared he is to go up against the “hairdos” of other networks. Wilson enthuses: “but in television, being there is half the gig”. It seems Milde may have fire in his belly for the thrill of the news chase, after all.
Emma Jolliff is a reporter and presenter for 3News.