Happy Birthday Janet and Reading Favourites with Sarah Jane Barnett & Matt Bialostocki, WORD Festival Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in the first two sessions.

Happy Birthday, Janet
Friday, 29 August, 12pm

Owen Marshall, Tusiata Avia, and Bernadette Hall celebrate Janet Frame’s 90th birthday with favourite janet_framereadings and musings. Chaired by Pamela Gordon (Frame’s neice and literary executor).

Sarah: Our first session of the day was quite a session. What did you think?
Matt: The selection of material was great—a short story, four poems, and then a novel excerpt and a poem.
S: Each writer talked about the way Janet had influenced them. Owen Marshall—where did he get that plug from? [During the session Marshall had held up a bath plug on a chain]
M: Willowglen. It’s where Frame lived in Oamaru, a town where Marshall had also lived. He ripped it out of the sink in the corner of a room.
S: Yeah, it seemed important to him that they’d both lived in Oamaru, that they’d inhabited the same space. I was also quite excited by Bernadette Hall ‘stealing’ Frame’s words—in her making them part of her own poem.
M: They were from the novel, State of Seige. Hall used them in her poem, “Dark Pasture.”state of seige
S: It was Hall’s response to Frame’s work. She alternated her lines with Frame’s. That reading floored me; it showed me how much Frame still influences our writers.
M: They all had a personal connection to the work they were reading, and to Frame’s work as a whole. Marshall also noted that while a lot of people related to her fiction, there is a tangible sense of response to her autobiographical work because she was writing about places people knew; they were places they lived and places they shared.
S: He’s an amazing reader. I would like to have Marshall read me one of Frame’s novels.
M: You’d just have to watch out for your bath plug.

Reading Favourites
Friday, 29 August 2.30pm
Kate De Goldi, Sarah Laing, and Carl Nixon talk about two of their favourite New Zealand books with Guy Somerset.

cv_sydney_bridge_upside_downS: That was freaking amazing!
M: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels! Let’s quickly cover the books. First, De Goldi told us about Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne. She called it the ‘great unread New Zealand novel’. Laing recommended the graphic novel Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks, and Nixon recommended The Day Hemingway Died and Other Stories by Owen Marshall.
S: Nixon said he felt it shows a darker side to Marshall’s writing. I want to read that.
M: For her second book, De Goldi raved about Welcome to the South Seas: Contemporary New Zealand Art for Young People by Gregory O’Brien. She said that we needed more creative non-fiction for kids in New Zealand. I agree. Laing showed us From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics by Adrian Kinnaird. She pointed out the ephemeral nature of NZ comics, and how this means it’s easy to miss new titles. Finally, Nixon spoke to us about Gifted by Patrick Evans—a novel about Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson.
S: His reading was fantastic. So fantastically funny! That is definitely one I’m going to read.
M: It’s developed a cult following.
S: day_hemingway_diedThey all recommended books they came to through a personal process of discovery. I think there’s something in that. Laing read comics as a kid, but then discovered them again in her 30s; The Day Hemingway Died was the first book Nixon discovered himself at age eighteen. De Goldi used the word ‘evangalising’; they really wanted us to read these books—to love them as they did. Many were out of print, though, or first published outside New Zealand. What does that say?
M: Yes—Hicksville was first published by the Canadian publisher Black Eye Productions in 1998 [and VUP in 2012], and Sydney Bridge Upside Down was originally published in 1968 but was out of print for years until De Goldi foisted a copy on a Australian publisher who was over for dinner.
S: De Goldi talked about the value of libraries. That’s where we find out-of-print books.
M: And all of these books were loved by at least one other person on the panel. Actually, Somerset was a great chair. He got them talking about the books so we could hear their varied responses.
S: He called them the ‘uber book group’. I felt encouraged. Nixon said he doesn’t read graphic novels and De Goldi said, ‘You need to learn to read them’. This is something I think for myself.


These conversations were recorded and transcribed after the events: Happy Birthday, Janet and Reading Favourites, by Sarah Jane Barnett and Matt Bialostocki.

Dear Charles, Dear Janet: the friendship of Charles Brasch and Janet Frame

An event at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

“Dear Charles, Dear Janet” was a reading of carefully selected excerpts from Janet Frame and Charles Brasch’s correspondence and journals. Sitting at a long table in front of the audience were the four readers—student Georgina Reilly and poet, critic and Landfall editor David Eggleton, to read Frame and Brasch’s correspondence in their early years, and Pamela Gordon and Alan Roddick to read Frame and Brasch’s correspondence in their later years (who respectively act as executors for Janet Frame and Charles Brasch’s estates).
I’m familiar with Janet Frame’s work, and I know a certain amount about her life, but hearing these excerpts from Frame and Brasch’s letters made me realise what extraordinary friends the two of them were. It was fascinating to hear Janet Frame’s first, extremely tentative and awkward letter to Charles Brasch, meekly informing him that she had some work “if I can bring myself to show it to anyone”, and later saying “I enclose (with diffidence) a bit of writing”. Brasch’s own letters were initially quite formal, but always encouraging and supportive, and it was so lovely to hear the tone of the letters change as time passed and their friendship grew and grew.

I had had no idea that Charles Brasch had been so dogged about getting Janet Frame financial support; it sounds like he spent at least six or seven years lobbying the government to give her a pension. It was also wonderful to hear how Janet Frame’s world opened up, particularly after gaining the Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. Suddenly she’s writing to Charles from London, then Baltimore, then New York, and talking about staying at the same writer’s colony as Phillip Roth.

p_RoddickThe readers were all excellent, but for me, the standout was Alan Roddick (right), who (perhaps unintentionally) seemed to embody the ‘character’ of Charles Brasch the best. In one of Janet Frame’s letters to American painter Bill Brown, she described Charles Brasch as “a noble, upright old man with discipline not marrow in his bones”. But it is also clear that he had a great deal of kindness, for which Janet Frame rewarded him with a great deal of admiration and affection. The reading was warmly received by the very large crowd (even if the drone of bagpipes from the capping parade down on Moray Place was not!)

Event reviewed by Feby Idrus, on behalf of Booksellers NZ