Blog Archives

“No country for old men”

Sydney-based New Zealand writer Paul Schimmel surveys the Hera Lindsay Bird phenomenon from across the ditch

Since Hera Lindsay Bird’s volume of poetry Hera Lindsay Bird was selected for the so-called long-list for the New Zealand book awards in poetry, and subsequently for the short list, I have become aware, from across the ditch, that a small-scale cult-like phenomenon seems to be emerging around her.

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The Sharp end of the stick, Catherine Robertson

Novelist and reviewer Catherine Robertson takes the pulse of local book reviewing

“Tame, dull, lazy, cowardly and predictable” is how Iain Sharp described New Zealand’s book reviewers in an opinion piece for website The Spinoff (March 23). He called for us to be less “gutless”, more “mean-spirited”, and to stop “talking tactfully through our rear ends”. He singled out round-up reviews and certain blogs as especially pointless, and called for an end to the bland and saccharine “Age of the Timid”.

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Supporting a long-haul life of writing, Paula Morris

Paula Morris (Ngati Wai), fiction writer and essayist, presents the Academy of New Zealand Literature/Te Whare Mātātuhi o Aotearoa.

Last year, when I returned to New Zealand after too many years away in the United Kingdom and United States of America, I did what I always do, wherever I live: I became embroiled.

The elements of the “literature sector” based in Auckland – publishers, festival, directors of the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) and Book Council – were having a series of conversations, and I infiltrated various drinks and meetings, keen to hear about what was going on. There was a new spirit of cooperation, perhaps, and a desire to make the most of ever-decreasing resources. In-fighting in a small market with low stakes is inevitable – irresistible, even – but in-fighting, parochialism and short-sighted self-interest seemed like relics of a different, simpler, stupider time.

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Intellectual life, Brian Easton

Brian Easton considers reviewing as New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa turns 25.

New Zealand Books was founded a quarter of a century ago, responding to a fear that The New Zealand Listener’s book pages were ending. I do not recall that there was then a concern that newspaper book pages would also be cut back. Once, a weekend newspaper devoted a whole broadsheet page – typically opposite the editorial page – to (shorter) book reviews. Today, you are lucky to get in their magazines two or three pages, at least one of which looks like a personality profile of the author issued by the publisher. Sometimes, the review is of a New Zealand book. So the annual award for review pages has been abandoned. (The death of newspaper reviewing is not peculiar to literature. For example, the gap in Wellington music reviewing has had to be filled by the Middle C website; local obituaries have all but disappeared.)

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Making the pieces fit, Kathryn Carmody

Kathryn Carmody, New Zealand Festival Writers Week programme manager, looks back, and ahead to the 2016 programme, 8-13 March. It’s a funny old job this one. There’ve been five managers on the literature programme since the inaugural festival in 1986.

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Reviewing the reviewers

Matthew Wright reflects on the ethics of book reviewing

It’s some years since New Zealand Books published a wonderfully nasty litany of my supposed failures in a book I’d written on South Island settler society where, the reviewer insisted as an opening declaration, his own work had never been challenged in 30 years.

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Happy birthday Gecko Press

Publisher Julia Marshall reflects on a decade of readers and reading.

Gecko Press is turning 10 this year. It is banal to say that in these 10 years there has been a lot of change (though of course it is true). But 10 years is not long to gain much in the way of perspective. I can’t imagine what it was like to be publishing books back when booky people at least were reading every novel published by a New Zealand writer, for example. Or, when no books were being published by New Zealanders, or the period of the long lunch. (We are pretty hard pressed to get lunch at all these days.)

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Poppy lopping and cultural cringing

Novelist Chris Else reflects on “the Eleanor Catton affair”

Among the matters raised by the Eleanor Catton affair, two seem to have been given short shrift: our treatment of our tall poppies and whether or not we suffer from cultural cringe. The Dominion Post editorial for 30th January 2015 denied the existence of a tall poppy syndrome: “New Zealanders are kind, sometimes excessively so, to their achievers. Keri Hulme says she got enormous support when she won the Booker, and this is the usual pattern.” In a similar vein, the New Zealand Listener editorial for 7th February 2015 came close to denying the existence of a cultural cringe:

It is simply not true to say that we don’t embrace our literary successes. The Listener has always championed excellent writing; in fact, we put Catton on the cover before her Booker win. By contrast, sports stars almost never make our cover.

These claims are no doubt true; however, they are also beside the point. We laud our successful people; we also sometimes cut them down. The grosser form of the cultural cringe may be on the retreat, but there is a subtler, more insidious form that is as deeply ingrained as racism or sexism. The tall poppy syndrome is its inevitable consequence.

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Page vs screen, Jock Phillips

Jock Phillips reflects on editing www.teara.govt.nz.

I grew up in a house full of books, where conversations inspired by books flowed free. Visits to the library were precious. I yearned to write books and will never forget that extraordinary moment when I held in my hand a copy of my first book. Books, along with magazines, were the pathway to intellectual excitement. They were the literary world.

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Mentors and protégés, Margot Schwass

Mentors and protégés

Editor and writer Margot Schwass looks at Frank Sargeson and his circle.

“[There] is a notion about that I am leading a little group that I train to write in words of one syllable,” complains a leading New Zealand writer. “Dear oh dear, those who know me know that I am insatiably interested in a wide variety of writing.” Another writer emphatically rejects that he is leading a school “where everyone sound[s] the same”. Young writers, he says, “have to find a voice that is theirs, and that’s their business and no one else’s”.

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