29 April 2008

Transported: The Tracklisting

I came back from a few most enjoyable days in Dunedin, visiting my lovely friends there - and making some new ones - to find an advance copy of my short story collection Transported waiting for me on my return. It looks great! The cover colours, which appear slightly washed out in the image to the left, are beautifully sharp on the book itself, and so far as I can tell, all the words inside are in the right place and in the right order.

No matter how excellent the publisher - and the team at Random House NZ (who have published the book under their Vintage imprint) are indeed excellent - opening one's new book for the first time is still a nervous moment. The book doesn't go on general release until 6 June, but it's already available to pre-order at some bookshops, and publicity for it should appear shortly before it is released.

Released ... tracklisting ... yes, I think of it as something like a record (that cherishably old-fashioned artifact) with 27 tracks, some of which have already been released, in earlier versions, as singles. Here's the "tracklisting" for Transported, with links to a few previously-published stories which are available online. I hope this will whet your appetite.

Rat Up a Drainpipe
Said Sheree
When She Came Walking
A Short History of the 20th Century, With Fries
Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev!
The New Neighbours
Not Wanted on Voyage
Jim Clark
The Wadestown Shore
Filling the Isles
The Visit of M. Foucault to His Brother Wayne
Borges and I
Measureless to Man
The Seeing
After the War
Best Practice
Robinson in Love
Going Under
Morning on Volkov
The Royal Tour
Queen of the Snows
Going to the People
Cold Storage
Books in the Trees

23 April 2008

Good News from Ireland

New Zealander Heidi North has just won the 1,000 Euro first prize in the Adult English section of the 2007 International Féile Filíochta Poetry Competition in Ireland with her poem The Women.

That's great news: great for Heidi, great for New Zealand poetry, but also especially pleasing to me because Heidi and I were part of the 2003 intake for the Victoria University undergraduate creative writing paper CREW 256 Writing the Landscape, taught by Dinah Hawken.

I have ambivalent feelings about creative writing courses in general, but my feelings about this course remain quite unmixed: it's great. Dinah is a wonderful tutor, the course (covering landscape writing in both poetry and creative non-fiction) was excellent, and the group of students in 2003 - twelve of us, eight women and four men, ranging in age from early 20s to considerably older, and with widely differing levels of prior writing experience - really clicked. Some fine work was written on that course (and not all of it was about penguins mating under the floorboards of the houses on Matiu-Somes).

About half the original group still live in and around Wellington. After the course finished, many of us continued to meet regularly to share our work; we don't meet so often any more, but we still catch up from time to time. Many of those unpublished at the time of the course have gone on to subsequent publication, and Heidi isn't the only one to be making a name for herself: I expect I'll be mentioning the successes of other members of the group sooner rather than later.

I like Heidi's poem a lot, and I'm delighted for her success. If you're at all interested in landscape and nature writing, or if you're simply interested in becoming a better writer, and you live in the Wellington region, I can recommend Writing the Landscape as a course that's well worth taking.

17 April 2008

The Listener joins the climate change denial industry

The Listener (that's the New Zealand Listener) has terminated Dave Hansford's Ecologic column after he published a piece critical of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (who, despite their name, are New Zealand's main association of climate change deniers) and exposed their dependence on the US backers and funders of the climate change denial industry - an industry with strong and documented links with both the tobacco industry, which pioneered the tactics the climate change denial industry now uses, and with oil companies, notably Exxon Mobil.

Not too many years ago, the Listener was a bastion of independent journalism, and a welcome counterweight to the heavily right-wing bias of the New Zealand newspaper industry. However, editor Pamela Stirling has back-pedalled furiously since she took over, turning the magazine into little more than New Idea with added TV listings. The only two remaining reasons to read it have been the Arts, Books & Music section, which is still excellent, and Dave Hansford's column. I haven't always agreed with what he's written, but each week, he's come up with intelligent, well-researched, focused environmental journalism.

So what did the Listener editor do when the local climate change deniers got their sugar daddies in the US to write angry letters to the Listener and issue threats? Did she back her columnist?

Like hell she did. First of all, she allowed the deniers, whose scientific credentials have been amply debunked in places such as Real Climate, extensive space for a "rebuttal", and then she terminated the Ecologic column.

Flushed with this success, who knows who the climate change denial industry will go after next? When the streets of Wellington and Auckland are flooded with seawater, they'll still be claiming it's due to sunspots or urban heat islands. I only hope they all own expensive coastal properties.

Meanwhile, the Listener will doubtless continue on its merry way rightward and downward. These days, I prefer the TV Guide. At least it's honest about what it's doing.

14 April 2008

Book Review: Mark Pirie, Slips (ESAW, 2008)

I discovered cricket in 1969. At the time, we lived in Otatara, south of Invercargill. The only access I had to test cricket (for the uninitiated, this means five-day games between nations) was via radio: 4YC out of Dunedin were broadcasting commentaries on that summer's tests between New Zealand and the West Indies. It wasn't a powerful station, and the only way I could get reception in our house was to put my radio on top of the metal toilet cistern, which amplified the signal. (It's possible this was inconvenient to other occupants of the house.)

Cricket is an old game which has developed a massive literature: not just the primary literature of statistics and match reports, but a secondary literature of fiction, poetry and plays. Mark Pirie has recently made a welcome addition to this literature with Slips, which is No. 21 in the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop's excellent mini-series of poem booklets. Slips is dedicated to Harry Ricketts, another cricketing poet (and biographer), thus acknowledging its place in this literary tradition.

Mark knows whereof he speaks. My cricketing days are well past me, but my son played junior cricket up to the 2006/07 season, and several times, just as his team were packing up for the day, Mark would turn up with his senior team. The cover of Slips shows Mark poised to take a slips catch (again, for US readers, the slips are like extra shortstops who stand behind the batter and take catches off what in baseball would be fouls).

All the poems inside are about, or at least allude to, cricket. These allusions range from the glancing to the highly statistical: "Legacies and Cold Stats" and "Fiery Fred" would delight any cricket historian, while the longest poem, "11 Ways of Being Dismissed", is based on a Cricinfo article about eleven unusual dismissals.

My two favourite poems in the book aren't so stats-heavy. "Brown's Bay" is a beautiful love lyric, while "The Pavilion", following a long literary tradition, uses cricket as a metaphor for life.

This book displays many of the virtues of Mark Pirie's poetry: humour, moving writing about grief and loss, and some classic last lines. I particularly like the final line of "Joe", about a gentleman who starts distracting the scorer:

I watch his words aeroplane up and down his breath.

Whether or not you know your doosra from your googly, Slips is worth catching.

09 April 2008

How It Came To Pass: Transported

I posted earlier about the origins of my Earthdawn novel, Anarya's Secret. That started with a call from a RedBrick staff member who'd seen some of the writing linked from my website and thought I might be the person to write an Earthdawn novel for them.

The origins of Transported are a little similar, but more convoluted. In early 2007, I got an email message from Fiona Farrell, appointed to edit Random House New Zealand's Best New Zealand Fiction 4 anthology, to say that she had seen my story A Short History of the 20th Century, With Fries online in Flashquake and enjoyed it. Did I have any stories in the 3000-5000 word range, previously unpublished in book form, that I'd like to submit for BNZF4? I thought this offer over for 1.2 seconds, said I did, and submitted four stories, from which Fiona Farrell chose "Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev!" for the anthology.

That was rather nice. Striking while the iron was hot while not letting the grass grow under my feet, I mentioned to Harriet Allan of Random House that I was putting together the manuscript of my second collection of short stories (following 2001's Extreme Weather Events), and would she be interested in seeing it? She replied that she would. After we did some reordering and I added a couple of new stories, the deal was sealed, and my second short story collection, Transported, came into being. With the aid of excellent editor Claire Gummer, the manuscript was kneaded into shape

Transported Cover

I recently learned that Transported will be published on the 6th of June, and there's preliminary publicity up on the Random House NZ website. This is my first book to be published by a major publisher. Before the process started, I had a little trepidation about it - would I be chewed up and spat out by the giant corporate machine? So far, however, everyone at Random House has been an absolute pleasure to deal with, and I'm looking forward with no little excitement to launch day and beyond. I'll keep you posted!

04 April 2008

Ruth Dallas, 1919-2008

Yet another obituary for a fine New Zealand poet. After Bernard Gadd and Hone Tuwhare comes news that Ruth Dallas has died.

In my opinion, Ruth Dallas isn't as well known, or as well read, a poet as she deserves. She grew up and began writing poetry in Invercargill (for readers from overseas, this is New Zealand's southernmost city, well away from the country's main centres of population). She later moved to the university city of Dunedin, where she lived for the most part away from the literary scene. While her work had some powerful supporters, such as Charles Brasch, her poetry (and children's books) were strongly located in the Southland landscape, and this did not appeal to a number of metropolitan critics.

The empty landscapes of Southland may not be for everyone, but I grew up there, knew and loved the places she was writing about, and found her concise and elegant poetry all the more evocative the further I moved from my Southland roots.

I recommend that you look for her Collected Poems (2000), check out her poem Calm Evenings online, and read her obituary in the Southland Times. In her quiet way, she was a major New Zealand poet, and certainly the pre-eminent Southland poet; and in her quiet way, she will be greatly missed.