Dear Jeanette Winterson, I should really stop reading your books because sometimes I happen on that one perfect sentence that floors me and I can’t read on. A good simile can cause me to well up like a – um – well in a flood and I have to put the book down and lie quietly in a darkened room for a bit. At that point, I tell myself I’ll never write again, why bother, I’ll just stop now, because I could write all my life and never write something one tenth as good as that simile, so I might as well just wallow in my welling which is as much about feeling sorry for myself as it is about appreciating the beauty of a good phrase. I’m that shallow.
Dear Jeanette Winterson, sometimes all I read is one paragraph and then I sigh and put the book down. Sometimes I can only manage the first sentence. I have read the first paragraph of ‘The 24 hour dog’ at least a dozen times. I have read “He was soft as rainwater” (it’s not the same when I type it) a hundred. It’s better in the book. I have to read it in the book.
Dear Jeanette Winterson, I promise I am not deranged. At least no more than most people. I have a perfectly normal life involving a day job, a partner, a cat and a rough approximation of something that bears a slight similarity to a writing career. My offerings however are as mud next to your polished diamonds. (Or maybe not diamonds, on account of the dodgy labour practices, maybe rubies. Do you like rubies, Jeannette Winterson? Not that I’m planning to get you any.)
Dear Jeanette Winterson, I saw you at a literary festival in Dublin years ago where you were warm, engaging and entertaining. There was a book-signing queue afterwards, but there was no way I could have joined it. It’s true I tend to come across like a grinning idiot when meeting authors I admire, but that doesn’t usually stop me. I still haven’t decided about the queue at the forthcoming Auckland Writers Festival. I’ll just have to see how I go.
Dear Jeanette Winterson, I would happily buy your next note to the electricity company, should you choose to publish it. I am pleased I live on the same planet as you. Thank you, thank you, thank you a thousand times for all the words.
Reposting this in memory of the Easter Rising, 100 years ago.
This is a poem of mine that was originally published in the wonderful Blackmail Press. I wrote it after a visit to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Joseph Plunkett, one of the Irish rebels who took part in the 1916 rebellion (or “Easter Rising”), was executed hours after marrying his sweetheart, Grace Gifford.
Easter Rising (Joseph Plunkett, 1916), by Janis Freegard
I couldn’t help myself. I had to go through the fiction list as well. Then the non-fiction. And what an interesting result. The 2014 list of New Zealand books (the latest available from the Journal of Commonwealth Literature’s annual round-up) shows that 44 (or 59%) of the 75 New Zealand fiction titles published in 2014 were written by women, significantly more than those written by men (who wrote 31 fiction titles, or 41%). If you take out children’s and young adult fiction, the gap narrows somewhat, with 56% of adult titles written by women and 44% by men.
I wondered if chaps were more likely to tackle non-fiction and this does indeed seem to be the case, with all 11 non-fiction books in 2014 having been written by men . It’s a little different when you add in Letters & Autobiography and Drama (see charts below). And if you look at the whole lot together, ie all titles excluding poetry, it was very even, with 50% by men, 49% by women and 1% by both (ie multiple authors).
Ethnicity is a very different story. I only looked at fiction for this. A massive 88% of fiction titles were by Pakeha authors, 7% by Maori authors (better than I was expecting but still less than the proportion of Maori in the population) and 5% by Asian/Indian writers. No Pacific writers had fiction published in 2014. Not one.
The usual disclaimers apply – for source and methodology, please see my blog on poetry titles .
Since 2008, I’ve been looking at the numbers of poetry collections being published in New Zealand, by gender, and more recently, by ethnicity. I was a bit slow getting to the 2013 stats, but here they are, along with the figures for 2014.
So what’s changed?
In 2013, publications were evenly split between male and female authors for the first time since I’ve been looking at them. Men were a little ahead again in 2014 (55%), but it’s still markedly different from 2008, when close to two-thirds of poets with collections published that year were men.
What’s really exciting is that after a steady decline from 2010 to 2013, the overall numbers of poetry collections is starting to increase again.
The publisher landscape has also changed quite a bit. In 2008, the three “big” poetry publishers in New Zealand were Steele Roberts (12 publications), Auckland University Press (8) and Victoria University Press (6). Other outfits to put out more than one publication that year were the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (5), Headworx (4), Original Books (4), Soapbox Press (4) and Chihuahua Press (3).
In 2014 however, romping to the lead is Lyttleton’s Cold Hub Press with 20 titles to their credit. Stalwart Steele Roberts came in at 14, Victoria University Press at 11 and Auckland University Press at 8. Wellington’s Makaro Press, if you include the 6 books published under their Submarine imprint, published 9 collections.
What’s the same?
Poets with published collections are overwhelming Pakeha, way more so than we would expect if we looked at the population breakdown from the latest census. (Note: doesn’t add to 100% as people may have multiple ethnicities.)
Only 5% of poets who published collections in 2014 were Maori (whereas Maori made up 15% of the NZ population), 3% were Pacific (cf 7% of the population), 1% Asian (cf 12% of the population – no pressure, Chris Tse) and 1% Middle Eastern/Latin American/African (cf 1%). Yes, Pakeha have an ageing population and are therefore more likely to produce published poets than more youthful sub-populations, but that’s not enough to account for the disparity.
Well, I do. I want to see a rich, diverse published literature that more closely reflects the range of poetic voices of this country. Also, I care about equity of access to goods and services and that includes access to being published (wait – didn’t someone sign a Treaty way back when?)
But surely it’s all based on merit? And women have got the vote now – what more do youse sheilas want?
Merit is subjective. If it’s only Europeans judging the merit of poetry, then there’s a chance we’ll miss something that a different group would find meritorious or inspirational or recognise their own lives in.
Whatevs. Where do the figures come from?
I rely on the Journal of Commonwealth Literature which includes an annual round-up of the literature of Commonwealth countries. I copy the list of published poetry collections from there into an Excel spreadsheet and bake it into pies (just kidding – I don’t bake). The journal comes out late in the year that follows the year in question which is why there is a delay. I can’t be certain the list is complete, but I feel sure that the good folks who compile it have done a thorough job.
How do you know everyone’s gender and ethnicity?
Ah, I’m not promising this is 100% accurate. I go to at least 3 websites (eg author pages on publisher websites and the NZ Book Council writer files) and I try to work it out from that. If there is nothing at all to suggest that a poet is not European/Pakeha, I count them as Pakeha. I do this because I figure when you’re part of the bigger group, you are less likely to identify yourself as such. I think it’s a reasonable assumption. Only a handful of poets actually say they are Pakeha, but some say they were born in the UK or US or mention that their ancestry is Irish, so I go by that.
Why is it just collections? Why don’t you look at poetry in journals and so forth?
Because I have a day job. But, you know, you should totally go for it.
Have you thought about looking at reviews?
Funny you should ask. I am part of an intrepid bunch of volunteers who are trawling through 2015’s many and varied reviews of NZ books as we speak (and not just for poetry ). If you’d like to join our merry band, please do leave a message on this site.
Wishing you all a merry 2016, filled with poetry and wonder.
Links to previous posts on this topic:
2015 is feeling like the year of anthologies. I’m very pleased to have work in these three little beauties:
‘Sunset at the Estuary’ is a tribute to the late Dianne Beatson who, with her husband, Peter Beatson, offered writing space in a lovely house in Foxton, as well as founding the Foxton Fellowship. The book contains a selection of poetry and prose from some of the many writers who have benefited from their generosity, including Sue McCauley, Chris Else, Alison Wong, Adrienne Jansen and Mandy Hager. It’s published by Rangitawa Publishing and edited by Dorothy Alexander and Joan Rosier-Jones. Over the years, I’ve spent a number of productive long weekends with writing groups at the Foxton house, which I’m very grateful for.
Also released recently is ‘Of Paekakariki’ – poetry, prose and illustrations about (you guessed it!) Paekakariki. It’s edited by Sylvia Bagnall and published by Michael O’Leary’s Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop. Contributors include Roma Potiki, Dinah Hawken, Apirana Taylor, Sam Hunt, Frances Cherry and Leon Uris (who was stationed there during the war). I read my contribution along with many others at a very enjoyable launch in St Peter’s Hall.
Cover illustration by Alan Wehipeihana.
And finally, there is ‘The Poetry Bug’ from Parthian Press in Wales. It’s an anthology of poetry about insects, collected by butterfly expert John Tennent. The collection offers much humour and rhyme and the poets range from Horace and Virgil to Pam Ayres. Quite exciting to have my little cockroach poem from ‘Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus’ rubbing shoulders with offerings from the likes of Tennyson, Rossetti, Whitman, Goethe and Dickinson. Also, it’s in hardback, which is always nice.
The very talented Tim Jones has recently published a new novella and kindly agreed to a blog interview.
Congratulations on your new novella, ‘Landfall’. I can’t help noticing it bears the same name as a certain NZ literary journal. Is there a connection?
Connection, guv? That was right out – I deny that completely!
There is in fact a connection, in that both the title of the novella and, I believe, the title of the journal both refer to Allen Curnow’s 1942 poem “Landfall in Unknown Seas”, which was then set to music by Douglas Lilburn:
Simply by sailing in a new direction
You could enlarge the world.
… which is a not an attitude that finds much favour in the world of my novella.
What’s the novella about?
I think the blurb does a reasonable job of summarising that:
When the New Zealand Navy torpedoes a Bangladeshi river ferry full of refugees fleeing their drowning country, Nasimul Rahman is one of the few survivors. But even if he can reach the shore alive, he has to make it past the trigger-happy Shore Patrol, set up to keep the world’s poor and desperate at bay.
Donna is a new recruit to the Shore Patrol. She’s signed on mainly because of her friend Mere, but also because it’s good to feel she’s doing something for her country. When word comes through that the Navy has sunk a ship full of infiltrators, and survivors may be trying to make their way ashore, it sounds like she might finally see some action.
To get more of a flavour, there is also a sample extract you can read for free: http://paperroadpress.co.nz/2015/08/01/free-excerpt-landfall-tim-jones/
Sounds intriguing! What defines something as a novella?
The good folks who administer the Hugo Awards, who as I’m sure we’ll agree are the ultimate arbiters of all such matters, define a novella as a story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words
So, in Hugo Awards terms (a boy can dream!) “Landfall”, which comes in at a tick under 11,000 words, is actually a novelette – happily, however, it met the requirements that Paper Road Press was looking for when it called for novella submissions.
In less mathematical terms, I think of a novella as a novel on a restricted diet, rather than as a longer short story. Novellas are like novels boiled down to the main plot and a few central characters. In my case, there are two main characters and for the most part the action is confined to the same location over a short span of time.
How is writing a novella different from writing a short story or a novel?
It doesn’t take years and years to finish the bloody thing! (Well, that may tell you something about my experience to date of writing novels…)
Although, having said that, the seeds of this novella were in a short story called “Pilot” that I’d had several cracks at writing over the years without success – I had three different partially completed drafts lying around. Each of these was from the point of view of a single character, Nasimul Rahman. When Paper Road Press called the first round of submissions for their Shortcuts series of novellas, I had the idea of adding Donna, the second viewpoint character, and alternating their viewpoints throughout the novella – and that’s what made the narrative work.
I believe it’s going to appear in print soon, too. Who else will be in the print publication?
Paper Road Press are putting out all six novellas in the first Shortcuts series in one print volume entitled Shortcuts: Track 1 – and if you preorder by 1 November, there are a couple of prizes on offer! Check out all the details here: http://paperroadpress.co.nz/books/shortcuts-track-1-collection/
I understand there’s a second Shortcuts series forthcoming from Paper Road Press, too. They are a very active Wellington-based publisher putting out some great work.
Where can I buy a copy?
What’s next? Will there be more novellas?
I like writing at novella length because it allows for more complexity than a short story – and because, as quite a slow writer, novellas don’t take me the agonising amounts of time that novels do! So, while I’m currently trying to finish a poetry collection, I do intend to write more novellas.
I already have one unpublished novella, but it’s an the unusual niche of “(association) football romance”, a market segment to which the publishing industry hasn’t yet turned its full attention. If anyone hears about publishers looking for Mills and Boon of the Rovers, please let me know.
Thanks Tim! Best wishes for your writing!
Tim Jones is a fiction writer, poet, and editor. He is also the author of two collections of short fiction, three collections of poetry and one novel. He was co-editor of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (2009) with Mark Pirie. Voyagers won ‘Best Collected Work’ in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and in the same year, Tim Jones won the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature. The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry was published in 2014 and is co-edited by Tim Jones and P.S. Cottier. You can find Tim’s blog at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.co.nz/
The Old Man and the Sea
Sun, sea, salt, fish stink,
Blood, fish scales and petrol fumes,
“Sea’s like piss on a plate,
She’s fresh as a fart in springtime.”
We strain pulling nets into the boat,
Laden with green, red and orange weed,
Doggies, snapper and a stingray or two,
“Fishing’s not what it used to be.”
Probably never was,
The old man goes apeshit,
“Come on, pull, you useless bastard,
You’re like a one-armed paperhanger,
Useless as tits on a bull.”
Gleaming sky turns grey,
Tangaroa gets restless,
And Tawhirimatea a bit stroppy.
“She’s blowing like 40 bastards,
Sea’s coming up rough as guts,
Rain’s coming down as fast as whores’ drawers.”
The old man laughs at the waves,
And we’re off with a hiss and a roar,
Then it’s down the pub for a few quick ones,
“A few beers and a bit of a yarn.”
The old man at the bar,
A Pakeha Maui
In his plastic sandals,
A nylon net
For his grandmother’s jawbone,
A string of obscenities
For his Karakia.
by Peter Clayworth
from Otago University Students Literary Review Centenary Edition 1888-1988
Dr Peter Clayworth is a Nelson-born historian, researcher and writer who now lives in Wellington. Peter is also my partner. He wrote this poem – about fishing trips with his dad – many years ago. Last week he read it out at his dad’s funeral in Nelson. Peter’s father had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, while he was over in Golden Bay white-baiting – doing something he loved in a place he loved. He was 83. Rest in Peace, Henry Clayworth: mechanic, fisherman, whitebaiter, spinner of yarns.