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Next Monday (23rd July 12:15pm), I will be in fine poetic company, reading at Te Papa in a curtain-raiser for National Poetry Day. (OK, the moon won’t be rising in the night sky, but I liked the photo and it was in the public domain). The other poets are Hera Lindsay Bird, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Rob Hack, Dinah Hawken, Anna Jackson, Helen Lehndorf, Kate McKinstry, Bill Manhire, Harvey Molloy, Marty Smith, Ranui Taiapa and Tim Upperton, and we will be reading our Best New Zealand Poems from the 2011 online collection.
The event has previously been advertised as being in the marae at Te Papa, but please note there has a venue change and it will instead be held in the Telstra Clear Centre at Te Papa: go to Level 3, turn left out of the lift and walk over the bridge. Hope to see you there! This part of the IIML’s “Writers on Monday” series, which features many other fine lunchtime events.
Friday 27th, National Poetry Day, will see many other events around the country – NZ Booksellers has a list of what’s on.
Mark Stephenson is a Wellington writer whose first novel No Second Chance has just been published by Steele Roberts. No Second Chance is the story of Anna, who arrives in Wellington in 1947 as a survivor of the holocaust. As well as being a story of survival, courage and betrayal, it’s also a story of love and hope. Anna forges a new life in a new place, but the past is always with her.
Mark grew up in the United Kingdom but moved to New Zealand in 1985 to work as a junior doctor in Invercargill. He has lived in Wellington since 1989 where he works as a GP and writes part time. He lives with his partner, a daughter and two dogs. Mark’s short stories have been published in JAAM, Takahe, New Idea, Viola Beadleton’s Compendium of Seriously Silly and Astoundingly Amazing Stories and Washington Square.
Recently I interviewed Mark about his beautifully written new novel, and about writing generally.
Mark, when I first met you, you were writing short stories. What led you to write a longer work?
Yeah, this novel started life as a short story, which was published in Takahe way back yonks ago. For some reason I just kept thinking about the characters and the reasons behind their actions. I gradually filled in the details of their lives and fitted them into a historical context, which wasn’t there in the original story, or not so much of it. Then I started thinking about the next generation, and the next one after that, and the consequences for them as well. So it became a story of how historical events can break apart a life, and a family, and eventually how the characters might come back together again.
What was different about writing a novel, compared to writing short stories?
It took a lot longer…!
But seriously, it’s easier in a way as long as you can stick to the task. You can develop characters and themes and plot along the way whereas in a short story it all has to be done in a few sentences, or words even. A short story is way easier to finish though.
You’ve chosen a very challenging subject. What made you decide to write Anna’s story? Is she based on a real person?
She is not based on a real person but some of the events I’ve written about have certainly happened to people. The situation and conditions in the camps are real but the characters and the way they interact in the novel are imaginary. I’ve been interested in those stories of survival since I was a teenager for some reason and have read some historical accounts. Many survivors keep their stories to themselves till they are much older, and some things probably go with them to the grave. I have often wondered what it would be like to survive, come back to a ‘normal’ life and how your mind would deal with it.
One of the most dramatic events in the book occurs in New Zealand, late in Anna’s life. This is based on an actual happening that occurred not far from here. It set me thinking… why would anybody do that? That’s really where the story came from – I started to fill in the gaps.
Do you have a regular writing routine? How do you juggle writing with your work as a GP?
Well, kind of. I have a regular bit of time off in the week when I write. Sometimes I spend most of it staring at the blank screen.
You held an NZSA mentorship while you were writing No Second Chance. How do you think that helped you?
It helped me a lot, basically by getting a lot of feedback on the text and how I was writing, seeing the recurring faults in my writing. I realised I had still a lot of work to do on the manuscript even though I thought it was already well drafted. I learnt a great deal. My mentor was encouraging while being honest about the bad bits, and there always are bad bits. She also praised the good bits, which I enjoyed more, strangely enough.
What are your writing plans now? Will you stick to novels?
At the moment I’m sticking to novels. I’ve written a draft of another one, possibly a second draft. It’s very different, though also historical, this one is set in sixteenth century Aotearoa before European contact and has a teenage boy as protagonist.
Finally, do you have any advice for first-time novellists?
I tend to think a lot and write little. I advise them to do the opposite.
No Second Chance can be bought from Steele Roberts and Unity Books, or any bookseller will order it for you if you ask.
You can read a sample of the writing at http://www.nosecondchancenovel.com
Stranded in paradise
When we hit tarseal again
I feel like the island
had tipped up
to send us rolling down-
hill heading for home
but not even halfway
between the end of the earth and Kaitaia
we hear a noise
and a clunk, and a hiss
We stop to check
Up ahead are houses
Cars rush past like flies
We trudge along the verge
The sun has already melted the tar
my Paihia jandals already ruined
Intimidated by the large white house
we try the neighbours
with the cars and the dogs
‘No landline,’ they say, ‘try the white house’
The white house peers down from its hill
the driveway is two lines
of white stones
I let you go first
They don’t ask us into the house
but bring the phone out
They tell us they once visitedWellington
like another country, this mythic south
We phone the AA and return to our car
I am homesick
for the first time
In the hours we spend waiting
the sun climbs higher and hotter
We sit in the car, there is nowhere else
each passing vehicle shakes us with jealousy
When the AA man comes
pulled from his family, pulled from Kaitaia
we pretend to not be embarrassed
that we can’t fix it ourselves
City folk, we can’t help it
“Stranded in Paradise” is from Helen Rickerby’s sequence of poems Heading North, published in handbound volumes by Otago publisher Kilmog Press. It’s a beautiful book, inside and out. The poems follow a couple travelling up the North Island to Cape Reinga and back – part road trip, part love story, with the presence of a bovine goddess in the background. In this poem, I especially like the idea of the island tipping people up and rolling them home again.
Helen Rickerby is the author of two other collections of poetry: Abstract Internal Furniture (2001) and My Iron Spine (2008) (both with HeadworX). She is also co-managing editor of JAAM literary magazine and runs Seraph Press, a boutique poetry publisher. Helen lives in Wellington, works as a web editor and blogs at Winged Ink.
Happy Poetry Day, everyone! There are more poems at the Tuesday Poem hub.
My poetry collection, Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus, is now officially available. If you’re in Wellington, I’d love to see you at the launch this Wednesday:
Venue: the Terrace Bar, upstairs at the Garden Club (13 Dixon St, Wellington, just around the corner from the reverse bungy on Taranaki St, next to Subway, used to be Wellington Repertory Theatre)
Date: Wednesday 4 May 2011
Time: 5:30pm to 7:00 pm (reading at 6ish)
Featuring Animal Biscuits, Cheese Straws and Various Beverages
You are kindly invited to wear an Animal Mask or Similar (Not Compulsory).
All welcome. Bring your friends.
Here’s what it says about the book on the AUP website:
Kingdom Animalia is a collection of poems that explore the various interactions between human beings and other animals, but also deals with wider subjects: love and loss, evolution and conservation, sex and death. The poems, which involve animals, as main subject or as passing guests, are arranged according to the six classes devised by eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus, whose life’s mission was to classify the natural world. Modern taxonomy has evolved considerably but this standardised naming system is still a common language for classifying the natural world. The sections are linked by a prose poem about Linnaeus’ life.
ISBN 978 1 86940 473 4, 210 x 148mm, paperback, 88p, $24.99| order this book
Isn’t the cover stunning? I feel very lucky. The painting is by Mary McIntyre (photograph by Jacqui Blanchard) and the design is by Jacinda Torrance. Last year I saw a companion painting (same figure – the artist’s granddaughter – in the same garden, but in a different pose) called ‘Family Life, Puriri Drive’ by Mary McIntyre at the Portrait Gallery in Wellington and thought to myself, wouldn’t that make the perfect cover for Kingdom Animalia? The following week, Anna Hodge from AUP emailed me the draft cover with ‘Bluebird’ on it. Spookily serendipitous.
I have added a ‘Kingdom Animalia’ page to this blog, which includes a species list (using modern taxonomy rather than Linnaeus’ system) of all the animals in the book. I’m struggling a bit with the formatting, so please bear with me while I get it sorted. (I do realise most people don’t get as excited about species lists as I do.)
I will be posting more about Linnaeus and notes about the poems in the book as I go. Hope to see you at the launch!
Here is an invitation to a book launch
You will notice (if you click on the link) that the invitation is upside down. No amount of rotating it and saving it will make it appear upright. You’ll just have to stand on your head. I have also failed to insert it into the post properly; all I can manage is the link. C’est la vie. Please come anyway.
This is what it says:
Janis Freegard hereby requests the Pleasure of Your Company at an
Exciting Social Event on the occasion of the
Launch of her Poetry Book entitled
Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus
published by Auckland University Press
Venue: the Terrace Bar at the Garden Club (13 Dixon St, Wellington,
just around the corner from Taranaki St, next to Subway)
Date: Wednesday 4 May 2011
Time: 5:30pm to 7:00 pm
There will be Animal Biscuits, Cheese Straws and Alcoholic Beverages for your Delectation and Delight. You are kindly invited to wear a Mask (although this is Not Compulsory). All welcome. Do tell your friends.
Spring sessions at the Watusi, 6 Edwards Street, Central Wellington (off Victoria St.)
Thursday 18th November 8:30pm start, gold coin entry
I will be reading, along with Trev Hayes & Mike Tights. There will also be an open mic (so bring your poems/songs) & live music from Reuben Wilson, Jordan Stewart & William Daymond.
I always knew I was home because of the china ducks on the wall. I bought them in the mid-eighties, from a second hand shop in Wellington, near the Manners St Post Office. The first thing I did in a new flat was to nail them up – in the lounge, if the flatmates were amenable, or in my own room if they weren’t.
The next thing I did was reassemble my bed. The wire base had to be reconnected with its solid wooden headboard and footboard by means of a spanner. This made me feel like an independent woman. A woman who could do anything. I could, for example, move heavy furniture around the room by bracing my feet against the wall and pushing things with my back.
And I would set up my record player and play ‘Colossal Youth’, the Young Marble Giants’ only album (though there have been CD reissues and live versions since).
Eventually, I gave the ducks away, but found I missed them. When I bought my house, the place Peter and I live in now, I bought the house a present – three china seagulls. They fly up the living room wall, telling me I’m home.