Sunday, February 25, 2007

Read it and weep

We don't read for duty. We read for pleasure.
The emotions come first, and at their highest point they enter thrill territory. To discover a book you love is not that different from discovering a person you love, and you can experience every emotion reading it, including what Les Murray calls the gift of weeping.

Jane Sullivan looks at what it takes to be a well-rounded reader, in The Age.

There's also one of many fine obituaries for Elizabeth Jolley, who died last week.
I interviewed her once for a magazine feature, and I have to confess I was more nervous about asking her questions than any other person I've ever interviewed. I thought she'd eat me alive, and did hours and hours of preparation.
But in fact she was disarmingly charming, as well as being every bit as rigorous, sharply opinionated, brilliantly read, forensically funny, and scarily intelligent as I expected. Just like her books. I completely forgot to ask all my carefully crafted questions, take notes, or do anything at all sensible. Instead I was carried away on a conversation about the nature of writing and fiction that one could never properly capture in a 1500 word feature. (Thankfully I remembered to turn on the tape recorder.)
For my money, she's our finest and most insightful novelist since Patrick White.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


How lovely. The New Zealand Children’s Literature Foundation, Storylines, has announced its Notable Books of 2006 list:

Junior fiction
Fiction suitable for primary and intermediate-age children.
And Did Those Feet… by Ted Dawe. Longacre Press.
Boyznbikes by Vince Ford. Scholastic New Zealand.
Ocean Without End: Book One of the Swashbuckler Trilogy by Kelly Gardiner. HarperCollins.
Frog Whistle Mine by Des Hunt. HarperCollins.
Thor's Tale: Endurance and Adventure in the Southern Ocean by Janice Marriott. HarperCollins.
The Unquiet by Carolyn McCurdie. Longacre Press.
Mind Over Matter by Heather McQuillan. Scholastic New Zealand.
Old Bones by Bill Nagelkerke. Scholastic New Zealand.
Castaway: the Diary of Samuel Abraham Clark, Disappointment Island, 1907 by Bill O'Brien [My Story series]. Scholastic New Zealand.
The Whizbanger that Emmental Built by Reuben Schwarz. Puffin.

That makes up for missing out on the NZ Post Awards shortlist last week, although it’s such a strong field in junior fiction one can’t be too bitter:

Frog Whistle Mine
My Story: Castaway
Thor's Tale

I confess I do wonder what the girls are supposed to vote for in the Children’s Choice round. Finer minds than mine have pondered the dominance of books for boys in awards lists. But there's no need to argue on the basis of quality. They are all terrific books.

The School Library Board in the US has also published its list of notable international books, with special mentions for Steven Herrick, Markus Zusak and Margot Lanagan, and Margaret Mahy's wonderful, riotous poem, Down the Back of the Chair.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dateline: Melbourne

I may not make much sense: new job, living out of a suitcase, girlfriend on the other side of the stupid ocean (without bloody end), not enough sleep - no clear head space for writing, or anything else for that matter.
A stack of research files finally arrived (I posted them to myself before moving countries) so I can resume work on the new book. Maybe. In the meantime the notes are stacked at the end of the bed along with scraps of paper, gardening catalogues, manuscripts, paint colour cards, old bills and various piles of books. None of which I'm reading.
Too stupid to read (although I did manage a Zadie Smith at last and not quite sure why). I'm very good at looking at pictures in gardening books. That's the extent of my reading just now.
Madness, really, since I now work in one of the most glorious buildings in Australia and it's filled with books.
I have, however, downloaded a whole stack of audio from ABC Radio's Book Show so I can listen to good old Ramona Koval talking about books, until the day I'm once again awake enough to read one - let alone write one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back in port

Right then, where was I?
On an island.
But now I’ve left it, sailed away (if you can call a car ferry sailing). Funny how the feeling of sailing away from a place you love is much more visceral that a quick zoom up the freeway or the fast take-off in a plane.
It takes time to leave an island. You feel yourself drawing away from it, coming unstuck, slowly separated.
I’ve lived there for two years, part of me always pining for a different place: for the way the afternoon sun slants through gum trees; for long brown grass and eucalyptus in the warm air – for country – for my own “wide brown land”. Everything in New Zealand seemed a contrast, all green and wet and pointy – and alien.
But now, to my surprise, I find there’s another landscape inscribed in me: of low grassy islands; of hilltops engraved with the lines of old forts; pale crumbly cliffs; the shape of spinnakers in the gulf; the bulge of mountains that never quite let you forget they are volcanoes.
It’s not my country, but it’s in me now and will never leave.
I saw a woman on the island, the day before I left, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Born here”. I smiled in secret empathy. I’d never known how strong that bond was until I left the place where I was born.
It’s got nothing to do with politicians’ tawdry nationalism. Instead, it’s a thing that can make you crazy, make you leave a perfectly lovely place, endure long-distance love, just to be there. At home. Where you feel right. Even without the t-shirt.
And yet going back is also heart-rending.
But here I am.

Friday, February 02, 2007