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Every year I spend several days hunched over a spreadsheet doing a bit of a round-up of who had a poetry book published in New Zealand the previous year, so you don’t have to. I’m interested in whether our national literature can be seen as representing the diversity of our population, because I think it should. I look at gender and ethnicity, based on how people describe themselves (or are described by others) on their websites, author pages, etc. Generally I try up to 3 websites and a quick check of who’s in Puna Wai Korero and if I don’t find any mention of ethnicity, I assume the poet is Pakeha/European. It’s not an exact science, but it gives a rough idea.
Now I’m up to 2015 (the most recent information readily available) and, well frankly, this is embarassing. Only two of the poetry books published in 2015 were by poets with Māori heritage and two more mentioned Pasifika heritage. Two further poets mentioned mixed European and Jewish heritage. Everyone else, as far as I could make out, was Pakeha/European. There were no Asian poets with collections published in 2015.
Here is a sad little pie chart:
By way of comparison, only 74% of people described themselves as Pakeha/European in the 2013 census (15% Maori, 12% Asian, 7% Pasifika, 1% MiddleEastern/Latin American/African – it doesn’t add to 100% because people can indicate more than one ethnicity).
Things are a bit more egalitarian on the gender front, but men were published more (57% of books compared with 43% by women), down from the heady days of 2012 where numbers equalised. Here’s how it looks over time:
Total numbers of poetry books are looking reasonably healthy, with 70 titles published in 2015 (compared with 73 in 2014). Victoria University Press were the winners in terms of overall quantity (10 titles), with Wellington’s Original Books in second place (7 titles) and Auckland University Press, Mākaro Press, Otago University Press and Steele Roberts joint third (6 titles each). Various small presses made up the rest of the list.
You can read previous posts on this subject here:
and if you have read it yet, here’s the link to Brannavan Gnangalingam‘s Spin-off article on subtle racism in New Zealand literature.
My source for the books published in 2015 is the Journal of Commonwealth Literature. I’ll get around to fiction in due course. And if you were wondering about reviews (whose books get reviewed), data for 2015 are still trickling in from an intrepid band of volunteers and I’ll try to do something on it when I can.
Sometimes I buy a book and find myself wishing I’d written it (while at the same knowing I couldn’t, because, well, I’m someone else and I can only write the way I write – disappointing though that can be when I was hoping for something more like Jeanette Winterson or Haruki Murakami).
Louise Wareham Leonard (New Zealand-born but mostly New York-based) is one of those writers whose books I always wish I’d written. I loved her novels: Since You Ask and Miss Me A Lot Of and I’ve been just as impressed with her latest work, 52 Men (published by Red Hen Press).
52 Men is a series of vignettes involving main character Elise’s interactions with different men, followed by a longer piece concerning disturbing events from her childhood and teenage years. The vignettes would each stand alone as flash fiction, but together they form a mosaic of Elise’s life, each encounter building our understanding of her as a person. So you get the depth of character development you might expect from a novel, but in a series of snapshots. It’s an interesting technique and it works. In further crossing of genres, the author describes 52 Men as autobiographical fiction, which I take to mean somewhere between the remembered and the made up.
But wait, there’s more! Louise Wareham Leonard invited other women to record a short piece of their own writing about men and launched a series of podcasts. The recording I contributed (I Meet A Man in a Bar) was based on a piece I wrote twenty years ago and recently rediscovered. You can listen to 52 Men the Podcast on Soundcloud.
Fancy some Brooklyn-inspired writing? Next Friday 25th November 2016, I will be reading from ‘The Year of Falling’ along with the excellent Maggie Rainey-Smith and the fantastic Jenny Bornholdt at the Brooklyn Deli (199-201 Ohiro Rd, Brooklyn, Wellington, NZ). There will be music from Wellington band The Brooklyns and wine & food from the Deli. Hope to see you there!
This Saturday, I’ll be at LitCrawl. If you’re in Wellies, you should be too.
I shall be reading at Hashigo Zake 25 Taranaki St at 6pm with the stunning line-up of Chris Tse, Gem Wilder and Emma Barnes.
When you write from a minority perspective, whether it’s your sexuality, your gender, your mental health or something else about you, there’s an expectation you’ll perform those parts of yourself.
We choose what parts of ourselves we offer, reveal and share. We decide what we gift of ourselves to the audience. We’re not just queer writers. We’re writers. We’re not just genderqueer writers. We’re writers. We’re not just mentally ill writers. We’re writers. We’re all of these things and none of them. Come along to hear some writing loosely organised along non-heterosexual lines across genders and experiences. We’re wrapping up ourselves as gifts and we’ll rip the paper too.
Featuring Chris Tse, Janis Freegard, Gem Wilder and Emma Barnes.
There are rumours that at least one cape may be involved and I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility of a hat. But hey, if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are are many other exciting LitCrawl options to choose from and you can read all about them here:
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.
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 .
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/
This is me with Mary McCallum (print publisher of the ‘Year of Falling’) and Penelope Todd from Rosa Mira Books (e-book publisher of ‘The Year of Falling’) at the Library Bar last night.
If you’d like a copy of the e-book, this is where you can buy it. The green $NZ12 button will take you to a Paypal link (you don’t need a Paypal account) and you can choose your preferred format there. And here’s the Q&A.
Many thanks to Penelope and Mary. Here’s to Rosa Mira and Makaro Press!
In further cybernews, one of my poems from The Glass Rooster is currently featuring on Tim Jones’ blog. Thanks Tim!