Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lashes: the portrait

                                        c2011 Helen Reynolds


By Mary McCallum

The art of mascara isn't hard to master. It just needs a firmness of touch, and a wiggle before the brush leaves the lashes. I've applied it on the run: on the toilet, eating breakfast, driving to work - one hand on the steering wheel, one on the mascara wand, both eyes on the road. I swear, I'd only check it in the rear vision mirror once or twice.
       That last time was different. Something scratching - a dislodged lash? The mascara clogged on the brush. I remember tipping the mirror and looking deep into the weeping white of my eye. Then the flash of yellow out of nowhere. Tiny candy-pink tights cartwheeling. One shoe. On the bonnet, the daisy from the little yellow hat.   
      That's all I see now, and I refuse to frame it. No more black plasticky lash-paint for me. Lashes, only lashes. 


I know, I posted this story yesterday. But this is 'Lashes' illustrated.  (And edited a little bit.)

The drawing is by Helen Reynolds who lives in the house where I used to live. She posts a drawing or artwork every day on her blog and I link to it in my sidebar. I am fascinated by Helen's work which makes me laugh and pause to think and arrests me in full blog-reading stride especially when it  eerily echoes my writing at the time, like the heart which pumped blood like this poem, and the drawing above which felt just like the story 'Lashes' I'd entered in the BNZ short-short story competition. 

It also gave me pause because, although it was a self-portrait of Helen, it made me think of the many times I'd caught sight of myself on a busy day in the rear vision mirror of the car - tired, too, from too many chores and too much time driving around delivering and picking up my children, and too little time pausing before a mirror doing what women with mirrors do. It struck me that there'd be many women who would feel the same way - not least the woman in my story.

So thank you, Helen, for 'Self-portrait' and for letting me use it here. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lashes - a super-short story

By Mary McCallum

The art of mascara isn't hard to master. It just needs a firmness of touch, and a wiggle before the brush leaves the lashes. I've applied it on the run: on the toilet, eating breakfast, driving to work - one hand on the steering wheel, one on the mascara wand, both eyes on the road. I swear, I'd only look in the rear vision mirror once or twice.
       That last time was different. Something scratching - a dislodged lash? The mascara clogged on the brush. I remember tipping the mirror and looking deep into the weeping white of my eye. The flash of yellow out of nowhere. Tiny candy-pink tights cartwheeling. One shoe. On the bonnet, the daisy from the little yellow hat.  
      That's all I see now, and I refuse to frame it. I can't. No more black plasticky lash-paint for me. Lashes, only lashes.


Lashes is one of the two short-short stories I entered in the brand-new section of the BNZ Literary Awards which you enter via Facebook. These stories are so short you could read them on an cell phone. It was fun writing them - more like writing a poem than a story.

Anyway, the winner has been announced and it isn't me, it's the very deserving James Francis with 'Whoo eh'! with Will Harvie and Grant Aldridge, Highly Commended. Go here and scroll down.... Graham Beattie was the judge and there were hundreds of entries apparently. Anyway, that leaves me free to post my story here. I entered it under my Gran's maiden name: Elsie French (a pseudonym was required.).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tuesday Poem: the asterisk machine by bill manhire (digital poem)

Go here

I lived with bill's asterisks for at least a year after I downloaded his screen saver. There's something nonchalant at first about the flipping, disappearing, reappearing, waving crosses, but  they soon come to seem regimented, formal, driven by some external pattern or command. Like soldiers on parade.

Then there's the asterisk, which at first seems unpredictable, a little flippant, playful even. But it's not that at all. If you look carefully, you'll see it stays in the same place: disappears behind the crosses, then reappears alternately. It seems exposed and then captive, and at the same time it is ineluctable.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Swimming with Books

Wonderful new book blog over HERE by author Susan Pearce. Thoughtful reviews from the point of view of a reader and a writer, for example this extract from her latest post entitled 'Where do ideas come from?' Fascinating stuff. Bring it on, Susan!

Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) is of the opinion 
that ideas and creativity circle the world like gulfstreams, looking for ‘portals’, and if you’re not open to them, they’ll go and find someone who is. I get the impression that she means actual gulfstreams of ideas, just as she seems to mean actual angels when she talks about angels.
I too entertain some unverifiable ideas, though I don’t have Gilbert’s ability to believe in discrete, human-like supernatural entities. But for writing purposes, I’ve found that pretending to believe can be useful. Our imaginations believe and act on what we tell them.
The post continues here. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

aarping & dissociative facebook identity disorder

The joys of the Urban Dictionary!  These are the words of the day:


 up286 down
When an elderly person, such as your grandfather, complains incessantly about nothing.
Grandpa ruined another family dinner by aarping the whole time about his bunions.
1968 up393 down
to send a high-maintenance partner a text message in order to keep them sweet and avoid them getting upset that you are ignoring them.

Similar to a feeding a tamagotchi, you send these texts to keep the relationship alive.
A: You coming to the pub mate?
B: Yeah, of course. One minute though, I just gotta feed the beast first.
2118 up1059 down
A common disorder where a person displays multiple personalities: One in person, and one on Facebook.
Kevin: "Damn, have you met that girl I work with L'fondra?"
George: "Yeah, shes a weirdo in person, but she acts all cool on Facebook. She must have Dissociative Facebook Identity Disorder."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Humming

Natalie’s humming.
The small cheeks inflate
and the eyes too, larger
and larger, the whites
alarming, the pupils bright as
cutlery, begging me
to guess what’s
pent up inside her, buzzing like
a hive of bees inside the
membrane of her cheeks, to allow her
to let it loose
in a woosh of air or spit or
a single unearthly note –

All I can do is stare at the dear
vibrating face, its perfect oscillations, a
familiar and unfamiliar
instrument. What has it seen, where
has it been? I am helpless
     as she teeters
on the chair,
inflating until there is no skin left to stretch,
no give in the eyeball, no feeling in her vibrating
lips, the buzz a thin high whine now –
and it’s then
that she rises bumpily into
the air.
                      I could grab at her ankle,
the hand with the dutch tattoo, but
I don’t. The hum – it is an engine.
She needs to go.
She needs to go. 

                             Mary McCallum

This is for Natalie, of course. The lovely girl who came to us one day to stay a while, a scarf wrapped round her dark hair, reminding me of a small bird. And who hummed and buzzed and eventually floated away, and came back, and hummed and buzzed and floated away, and came back...  It's what she does. There is a mooring rope of sorts we each hold onto, something fine that can't be seen.

Do go to the TUESDAY POEM hub - a blissful poem there by Anna Jackson. And then slide into the TP sidebar and all the other terrific poets and poems.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A delicate form of genius - Byatt on Fitzgerald

What I\
 I am still in that state of bliss and grief having finished a truly great book: Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, about the 18th century German poet Novalis and his love for a 12-year-old girl. I have also been trying to work out how she did it. 

One thing most certainly is the way Fitzgerald enters a scene at a finely-judged angle that skids you into it, the words shimmering and almost dissolving as it unfolds. 

She elides more than you'd think possible, and at the same time selects an adjective or line of dialogue which opens out the scene and the people within it to the point of almost perfection. The sentences, as novelist A. S. Byatt notes, are 'delicious'. The social observations, humour, delicacy and cleverness are the closest to Jane Austen's work of any other writer I've read. 

There is so much more to say, but oh, it is late, and having read novelist A.S. Byatt on Fitzgerald, I feel I must hand it over to her now. She gets to The Blue Flower at the end of the review on the Threepenny Review website, but the whole thing is worth reading for what it says about Fitzgerald's writing. 

It begins like this:

Penelope Fitzgerald writes discreet, brief, perfect tales. Her first novel was published in 1977, when she was already over sixty. She won the Booker Prize in 1979 for Offshore, a comedy with an edge about a family barely surviving on a houseboat on the Thames. Her early novels are English-kindly studies of the endless absurdity of human behavior, seen simultaneously with an unwavering moral gaze. She is interested in traditional forms-the plotted detective story, the supernatural tale. 

In 1986, with Innocence, she began to write about other countries—Italy, Russia, Germany—and other centuries. This looking outwards from English manners was in the air at the time, and there has been a flowering of historically and geographically various fiction in Britain. But Fitzgerald's later novels are quite extraordinarily good. They made me at least re-read the earlier ones with closer attention, consider the delicious sentences, come to the conclusion that Fitzgerald was Jane Austen's nearest heir, for precision and invention. But she has other qualities, qualities I think of as European and metaphysical. She has what Henry James called "the imagination of disaster." She can make a reader helpless with inordinate private laughter. (I will give examples.) She is also one of those writers whose sentences, however brief, are recognizable as hers and no one else's, although they are classically elegant and unfussy. 

More Here

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Life without Bookshelves

A wonderful post on the Booksellers website by Marcus Greville, Web Manager at Vicbooks in Wellington is a must-read for all collectors of books. It begins thus:
A recent article described the disappearance of home bookshelves in the face of growing ebookishness. It left me with the same feeling of stunned confusion I experienced when, aged nine, my brother cut my yo-yo string mid yo.
A home without bookshelves means a home without books, or, worse, hidden books. Which is wrong. Wrongity, wrong wrong wrong.
The rest of it (oh do keep reading) is here. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Litany by Billy Collins as recited by a 3 year old

This is kind of strange, but people come in all shapes and sizes. I find it interesting what the words do coming from the mouth of a babe and where the meaning lies. For more Tuesday Poems out of the mouths of babes and others - click on the quill in the sidebar or HERE.

At the hub is a strange and fascinating offering by Janis Freegard about an axolotl - editor Saradha Koirala selected it, and in the sidebar... well, click to see!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Poem: riding on Sarah's (and Jenny's) horse

a horse i met once
Okay, so that's not the title of my poem for this week. First thing this morning, I read Sarah Jane Barnett's Tuesday Poem post: 'Poem About a Horse' by Jenny Bornholdt, then I went off and tinkered with some of my poems-in-waiting intending to pop one up on my blog. But after reading 'Poem About a Horse', everything I tinkered with seemed insubstantial and overly heartfelt.

Jenny's poem is wonderfully playful and it is a long poem (Sarah loves long poems) and there is heart in there but it is knitted in with such delights as a Yak-proof house and an excessively long skirting board and the joys of global roaming. So its a fabulously light and airy inner-sprung heart, not the leaden version that lies at base of the worst kind of poetry.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the first two stanzas - and you'll need to go Sarah's blog for the rest ... it is absolutely worth it. After that please visit the Tuesday Poem hub for another playful, long poem (an extract of) with its own terrific inner-sprung heart. It's by Richard von Sturmer edited by Harvey Molloy.

Poem About a Horse by Jenny Bornholdt
This poem could be about your horse.
This horse here, or a horse
you remember, either one will be fine
and either way you will need to include
some other animal to keep the horse
company. This could be your friend’s dog—

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Book Awards and 'the power of many stories'

My Photo
With the shortlist for the NZ Post Book Awards still being wrung out and pegged on the line by writers and readers around the country, Renee Liang popped into my mind. 

Why? Well there's a groundswell of dissatisfaction about the list of only three books for both the fiction and poetry awards. Five, why can't there be five? That way more books would get their time in the sun; and for the same reason, many of us would also like to see a shortlist for the Best First Book Awards rather than one outright winner for each.

I have already said that the judges' list is the judges' list and despite our own wish-lists, we should just get on and celebrate the authors they have selected. I do believe that, but how much more of a celebration we could have if there was a more substantial, nay, a more generous list. The celebration isn't just for literature, it is a celebration - and vital affirmation - of us and the way we think and live.

Renee has explored this idea online (I don't know her view of the Book Awards per se). In The Big Idea arts website, Renee writes about this year's Auckland Writers Festival and why people converged in record numbers -

"I feel that engagement is what people come for – they want to feel invested in the discussion, in the stories being told, in the authors themselves."

She talks too about 'the power of many stories' converging and how they're essential to a balanced view of the world - she is quoting Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie here who warns against 'the danger of a single story' in this marvellous TED talk.

It seems to me, being too economical in our only national book awards shortlist is choosing to ignore this philosophy and has its own dangers. Not least, it limits us.

Renee is one of those fascinating writers - someone with a real job. She's a paediatrician as well as a poet, playwright, and short story writer who organises community arts events, blogs on Chinglish and on The Big Idea arts website, is a Tuesday Poet and now a judge of the inaugural NZ Society of Authors Asian Short Story Competition. Recognised as a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader last year she said this:

'My shared passion for medicine and arts has often converged in my projects, and that’s because I believe they are the same thing. I’m interested in the stories people have to tell, the history behind their stories, and the environment they come from.' 

[If you have a minute, read an astonishing poem that brings together her two passions.]

Renee ponders the danger of one story in the context of judging the Asian Short Story competition. What is an 'Asian story'? she asks, and decides there isn't and can't be just one. More in her article here.

Renee is also sister to the up and coming filmmaker Roseanne Liang  (My Wedding and Other Secrets) who has brought Chinese-NZ stories to the big screen. Renee says My Wedding is her story and it led to a backlash in a Chinese community that believes in its members keeping their heads down. She recognises the risks her sister's taken

Who must the storyteller ultimately answer to? Herself? The subjects of the story? The community the story comes from? The audience she aims to connect with? These things are not clearcut, and there's no right answer. My sister decided that remaining true to herself was what this film demanded, and part of my tears on watching the film came because I saw that struggle. The documentary worked because it was so raw and honest. The film, although fictional, maintains that quality.

More here. 
So I guess what many of us in the wider community would like to see with the NZ Post Book Awards is more risks taken. More 'investment in the discussion.' More stories up there for us all to embrace. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The world differently - the 'Posties' Announced

‘All the finalists enable us to see our world differently.  They tell great stories with pride, brightening our lives in this time of dark days.’ Judging panel convenor Paul Diamond. 

The 'Posties' list is out and my hat is off to the judges - Diamond, Charmaine Pountney, Bob Harvey, Emily Perkins and Michael Harlow - for all the hard work that's gone into it: all that reading, all that thinking. Not an easy job. 

They note that the number of poetry entries was up - almost as many as fiction - and: 'the Māori World was also significant in the work of many finalists.' But sadly, the non-fiction entries were fewer 'reflecting tougher times in the New Zealand publishing industry.' 

Good news about the poetry, though. Although there would have been even more entries if the smaller presses could afford to enter more of their output (I've been told entering a book costs a few hundred dollars but have no exact figures). One of my favourite poetry books of the year Jo Thorpe's In/let (Steele Roberts) wasn't entered, and I believe that may have been part of the reason. 

There are other books that were most probably entered into the Awards but didn't make it in the final cut which one might wish had for all sorts of reasons - such as Sue Orr's Under the Overcoat, Hamish Clayton's Wulf, John Newton's Lives of the Poets, Harvey McQueen's These I have loved, Pat White's How the Land Lies, Fiona Kidman's massively popular Where your Left Hand Rests (our small bookshop sold 41 copies alone) and Patrick Evans' astonishing act of ventriloquism Gifted (and there are more ... I just need to get the brain ticking) - but, as we've seen in past years, that sort of wish-list doesn't get you anywhere.  

[Postscript: two other books noticed by their absence are Craig Cliff's A Man Melting which won Best First Book in the Commonwealth Awards and Lloyd Jones' Hand me Down World; and it seems Orr's and Clayton's books - published this year - will be in the running for the 2012 shortlist not this one. I thought there was some over-run from one year to the next. And where oh where is Bill Manhire's fabulous The Victims of Lightning?) 

Anyway, talking about wish-lists.... the judges have come up with their list, and now we need to celebrate the books that are on there and the authors that made them, while at the same time remembering there are other books by NZers out in the shops and still worthy of our attention.

The Fiction section has two authors that were in the finals with me (and Alice Tawhai) in 2008: Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw. It was Charlotte's year - winning the fiction category and the medal for fiction and poetry (and Reviewer of the Year!). Laurence got the runner-up prize and The Blue (mine!) won Best First Book and Readers' Choice. I prize both awards, but the Readers' Choice was a delicious surprise on the night. 

Could it be Laurence's year this year? As far as the poets go, I can't take a punt as I've only grazed through these excellent books, so I'm going to have to get reading; and in the non-fiction, I love 99 Ways into Poetry and Pounamu, but I'm going to have to get reading in that area too or at least do some more concerted grazing, because frankly - as always - there are too many books and not enough time .... For excellent reviews of said books you couldn't do worse than go to Landfall Review Online  and The Listener's new site. Here are the finalists, and the winners of the Best First Books: 


The Hut Builder 
by Laurence Fearnley
(Penguin Group NZ)
The Night Book 
by Charlotte Grimshaw
(Vintage, Random House NZ)
Their Faces Were Shining                              
by Tim Wilson
(Victoria University Press)

The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls 
by Kate Camp
(Victoria University Press)
The Radio Room 
by Cilla McQueen
(Otago University Press)
Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English – Whetu Moana II 
by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan
(Auckland University Press)
99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry 
by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts
(Vintage, Random House NZ)
Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of NZ Popular Music 1918-1964 by Chris Bourke
(Auckland University Press)
Mune: An Autobiography 
by Ian Mune
(Craig Potton Publishing)
No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson
by Paul Millar
(Auckland University Press)
The Tasman: Biography of an Ocean
by Neville Peat
(Penguin Group NZ)
Brian Brake: Lens on the World 
by Athol McCredie
(Te Papa Press)
by Russell Beck, Maika Mason and Andris Apse
(Viking, Penguin Group NZ)
Still Life: Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton 
by Nigel Watson and Jane Ussher
(Murdoch Books)
The Dress Circle
by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Claire Regnault and Lucy Hammonds
(Godwit, Random House NZ)
The Passing World: The Passage of Life: John Hovell and the Art of Kowhaiwhai 
by Dr. Damian Skinner
(Rim Books)

The NZ Society of Authors Best First Book Award Winners Announced:

Pip Adam wins the 2011 NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction with her short story collection, Everything We Hoped for (VUP) 

Lynn Jenner wins the 2011 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry for Dear Sweet Harry (AUP) 


Dr. Poia Rewi, wins the 2011 NZSA E.H. McCormick Best First Book Award for Non-Fiction for Whaikōrero: The World of Māori Oratory (AUP) 

Very pleased for Pip and Lynn - I was at both those launches at Unity in Wellington and find both books thrilling. Dr Rewi's book I don't know but it sounds a fascinating read. But oh, I still don't know why we can't have shortlists for the Best Firsts to give more of our new writers their day in the sun, and more excitement leading up to the announcement of the winners....

Enough of that - now it's your job to start reading and start voting for the Readers' Choice Awards. The Poetry Winner is announced on National Poetry Day July 22, and the other winners are announced at a ceremony on July 27.