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Friday, 28 February 2014


Erin McKechnie writes...
With apologies to the male writers I know struggling to be recognised, I have précised an interesting article by Alison Flood published in The Guardian Weekly on 7th February. It would be nice to think it would challenge some of the publishers and book sellers in New Zealand, but I have little confidence they would even read it.

Figures last year from Vida, the American organisation for women in the literary arts, show the huge imbalance in how male and female writers, and reviewers, are treated. At the New York Review of Books, for example, 16% of the reviewers were women, with 22% of the books reviewed written by women.  A similar investigation in the Guardian revealed that the situation in the UK is no better.  In March 2013, 8.7% of books reviewed in the London Review of Books were by women, rising to 26.1% in the New Statesman, and 34.1% in the Guardian.

Daniel Pritchard, editor of the journal Critical Flame, has announced a year dedicated to women writers and writers of colour, citing the Vida figures as part of the reason for his decision and saying, “nothing will change if people do not act morally within their spheres of control”.

“Women writers and writers of colour are under-served and under-valued by the contemporary literary community,” he writes. “Silence on this literary disparity has not been the problem over the past few years. Inertia has.”

Author Joanna Walsh determined to do her bit to redress the imbalance and started the ‘#readwomen2014’ project. It started with a few Christmas cards which dubbed 2014 ‘the year of reading only women’, listing the names of 250 women writers and encouraging recipients to actively choose to read books from those authors. She was inundated with requests for more cards and suggestions for other women authors to include.

Not only did the women respond positively; many men apart from Pritchard have made reading resolutions of their own. Authors and readers such as Matthew Jakubowski, Lilit Marcus and Jonathan Gibbs have all undertaken to read only women writers. Jakubowski, an American author and literary critic has resolved to read – and hence review – only books by women in 2014. In his words – “if we don’t decide to do the work it takes to find valuable, important books by women and under-represented authors, we will continue to miss them and the loss will be ours.”

He believes news outlets still favour men over women when it comes to book coverage and that publishers are more likely to spend large sums on male writers. “The result of this investment by publishers is that readers and literary critics are guided towards books by men.”

Gibbs, an author and journalist for the Independent undertook his women-only reading stint after “reading Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and basically getting peed off with that self-reflexive, ‘I know I’m a shit and that makes me great’ male narrator type story.” Essentially, he recognised he was reading through the filter of male consciousness and further, that the book industry and media largely colluded in, or constructed the idea that male writers are best. Gibbs assumes this is largely cultural and comes down to the de Beauvoir quote about man being defined as a human being and a woman as female, ie ‘Look, that’s the great literature, see how it writes about the human condition!’  when in fact it’s only writing about the male condition.

Of the publishers who have pulled out of New Zealand in the last decade, how many were headed by men, do you think?

Erin McKechnie

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Jenny Harrison - proud of NZ indie publishers

The future is bleak. New Zealand books written by New Zealanders about their land and its people may soon be a thing of the past. Because of the changing nature of world economics, many of the big publishing houses have deserted us. Over the recent past we have lost Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins and a bunch of others, leaving hundreds of bright, creative and accomplished writers with no opportunity for ‘big-time’ publication and having, in the final score, to fend for themselves.

There are budding Eleanor Cattons, Janet Frames and Lloyd Joneses among us but, given the problems we now face, they may never see the light of day.

But wait, as the advert says, there is more! And that ‘more’ is the proliferation of self-publishing or, as we prefer to call it, ‘indie’ publishing.

To say that we Kiwi writers have taken to self-publishing like the proverbial ducks to water is an under-statement. In spite of indie publishing being challenging and scary, New Zealand writers are finding their feet in this demanding new arena and are set to reach new heights.

There are downsides to indie publishing, one being the inability of media book reviewers to see beyond their noses and give us the opportunity to prove ourselves. Another challenge is that the big book sellers are reluctant to stock our books, largely due to bookkeeping problems. Small independent book sellers are far more accommodating – if you want a good book then go there first! The other is that libraries, our mainstay, have shrinking budgets. They tend to buy a limited number of books and then shuffle them around to their branches. In my humble opinion, it would probably be cheaper to buy more books than spend the money on petrol ferrying them to and fro. However....

Another downside is the technology, a fearsome ogre to anyone who isn’t on first name terms with their computer.

On the upside you have cart blanche to make as big a mess as you like of chaotic editing, a book cover designed by your wife and loads of grammar- and spelling mistakes. Just kidding! Those are elements that define a self-published book and you, being smart, modern and savvy, are not going to make those errors. You are going to get a professional editor and a book cover that looks as if it was designed by Gucci.

I’m one of a happy bunch of writers called the Mairangi Writers’ Group. We operate in Auckland and have been going for about thirty years. Our members have written and published upwards of thirty books in a variety of genres, from children’s books to non-fiction to chick-ick lit. If you don't know what chick-ick lit is, you’re in for a gory surprise!). We blog, we arrange seminars while still writing prolifically and, at present, are busy organising an all-out book fest for March where we celebrate our prodigious output and our general expertise as writers.

We’re not going to let desertion by the ‘big boys’ stop good New Zealand books from getting to readers. No way!

Jenny Harrison




Friday, 7 February 2014

Maureen Green on writing horror stories.

I have just completed my third, adult thriller. I 'm often asked why Thriller Chillers?
Nothing, nothing captures the pain that lies at the heart of human beings more than something overwhelmingly frightful, loathsome, shocking and abhorrent.
The horror genre is construed around such emotional and physical responses. It seeks to produce in its audience anxious fright and hair-raising chills.
Across history and culture, horror stories have served to document and illuminate the human condition. Horror lies at the very heritage of literature, from scary narratives in folklore and fairy tales to a long standing tradition of fear-narration.
Horror lies in the tension between the figurative and the real, the conscious and the unconscious. It is an emotional response extremely personal.
'Man's inhumanity to man', anger-motivated violence, murder, abuse, and the worst of all acts, the deprivation and cruelty heaped upon our children are what disgusts me. Since I have many untold happenings to draw on, I use these themes in my more chilling works.
When writing 'thriller chillers' the emotional empathy becomes so strong that I find it somewhat draining and frequently disturbing when the character takes over. I'm often left wondering where that chilling idea or action came from
It was in 1951 that I tasted, for the first time, the extreme emotional forces associated with horror. Few confrontations have divided New Zealand as decisively as the 1951 Waterfront Dispute—the longest, costliest and most widespread in New Zealand history. Few New Zealanders were left unaffected during this time of great nationalism, civil disobedience, prejudice, stubbornness, passion and anger.
It was also, during this time of unrest, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe's, 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' a tale where an old man's cloudy eye incites the narrator to an act of madness.
The hook, 'True——nervous—very, very, nervous I have been and am.' captured my attention, the story as it unfolded, creepy, chilling, thrilling.
This was the first time I identified with characters in a literary rendition. While I read, 'Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant,' my heart banged against my ribcage and my pulse played a symphony in my ears. I heard that heart beating in moments of silence, week after week.
I then tackled Poe's poetry and was mesmerised by the lyricism and the economy of words used to create a chill.
Leave my loneliness unbroken!
-quit the bust above my door
take thy beak from out my heart,
and take thy form from off my door!
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore"
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him steaming throws his shadow to the floor;
And my soul from out the shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted-nevermore
Consequently, fifty odd years on, having immersed myself in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelley and other canonised authors of horror stories, when I came to writing, I chose, to write 'Thriller Chillers.' for adults Not because works in the horror genre remain some of the best-selling and most cherished books of all time, because, chilling experiences provide coping strategies and  I have so many horrific acts which have never been aired in the public domain to weave into works.
Maureen Green