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Recently some of my Alice Spider poems were chosen to be part of an excellent online anthology about Pukehau/Mt Cook. The poems were first published in the online journal Turbine in 2002 and reprinted in AUP New Poets 3 in 2008. This got me thinking about the various Mt Cook flats I lived in, back when I was in my twenties.
In 1985, I flatted in a two-storey house in Rugby Street by the Basin Reserve with three other people – different people at different times. There were parties. There were squabbles over who had burnt out the element in the jug. There was meatloaf, an alphabetised record collection and a weekly gathering around the television to watch Dallas. German journeymen would occasionally appear on the couch. A three-legged cat we called Tripod would wander in for a pat. One flatmate made great homemade Irish cream (similar to Bailey’s); another had a terrific recipe for marinated raw fish. A flatmate who cleaned for a law firm occasionally liberated a nice bottle of wine from the partners’ stash and brought it home to share.
Some years later, I was disappointed to learn our house had been bowled – along with three other perfectly good, sound houses – to make way for a Repco Autoparts store. Every time I walked past, I felt like pasting up a photo of the old place that said ‘LOST: Have you seen this house?’
My second time in Mt Cook came a few years later – a flat in Hankey Street with two other women. One stormy evening, a friend brought a kitten around, wrapped in her raincoat. She’d found him, apparently abandoned and half-starved, near the dairy. She already had cats of her own and couldn’t take in another. I hadn’t planned to get a cat, thinking I moved around too much, but I couldn’t resist this tiny, shivering, flea-infested bundle. My flatmate had spotted him previously but he was wary of people and she hadn’t been able to catch him. Now he was close to giving up.
I took him to the vet the next morning in a cardboard box that said Whole Baby Beans and Whole Baby Carrots. ‘Snatched from the jaws of death,’ the vet proclaimed, before pumping him full of antibiotics and offering a 50:50 chance of survival. He told me to keep the kitten warm and give him baby food. I took him to work in his little box (the kitten, not the vet), stopping at a pharmacy on the way for tinned baby food, Bone-Gro and a hot water bottle shaped like a cat. He spent the day under my desk at the Department of Conservation, good as gold, climbing out to eat his meals and back in again where his hot bottle water kept him warm. Workmates who might normally have taken a dim view of cats popped around during the day to see how he was getting along.
Over the next few weeks, he struggled back to health. I called him Spike. We lived together for nineteen years and I loved him.
The third time I lived in Mt Cook was in a flat in a block of four in Anderson Terrace. This time it was just me and Spike, my first time living (almost) alone. The only part I didn’t enjoy about being there was that my next-door neighbour worked shifts and I routinely woke up at 2 am when I heard his car.
Later, Spike and I moved to Mt Vic, then Berhampore and finally Vogeltown, where I promised him he’d never have to move again. He’s buried in the garden. I still miss him.
Just a wee reminder that this is coming up next Tuesday. It’s for a good cause and everyone gets a 20% discount off the Recommended Retail Price on the night!
Date: Tuesday, 4th November
Time: 5.30 p.m.
Place: The Grand, 69 – 71 Courtenay Place (upstairs)
Here’s the list of contents and further information from the editors:
‘Sweet as’ is a typically New Zealand term meaning okay, cool, better than good, or even awesome. However, the stories in this collection are not all ‘sweet’ in the traditional sense. New Zealand is a country of light — both strong and bush-dappled — but it also has a dark side.
These short stories speak to us of the diverse world we live in. They take us on a journey, or offer a glimpse into another’s life. Some show the struggles, tough questions and challenging situations people face. Some stories are sweet or humorous, while others are quirky or just plain entertaining. They provide us with a snapshot of life in New Zealand and how New Zealanders experience life overseas.
For this collection, we sought contributions from New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. This gives a breadth of story lines — ‘sweet as’ in their variety and quality. Our aim was to continue one of New Zealand’s finest traditions: its strong culture of reading and writing, especially in the area of short fiction.
Links to more information:
eBook and book orders:
For more information email us at: SweetAsShortStories@gmail.com
inside that special separate world
for half a precious hour
we are not lawyers, marketers or policy analysts
not husbands, mothers or discarded lovers
we are Wellington coffee drinkers
on our first of the day
focusing carefully on the task at hand
a leisurely stirring
the spreading of butter on muffin
warmth and froth
and chocolate hearts on our saucers
I wrote this poem quite a while ago and it was later commended in the Whitireia ‘Eat Your Words’ cafe poetry competition in 2010. It was inspired by a cafe I used to go to with Peter every morning before we started work, when I was working in Manners St. The cafe was Sardine and is no longer there. They did great muffins and great coffees, played good music and were always friendly. Wellington is a city that runs on coffee – hats off to all those lovely baristas.
For other Tuesday poems, visit the Tuesday poem hub.
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.