Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Invisible Mile - launch speech

We recently launched The Invisible Mile by David Coventry at Unity Books. Carl Shuker, who gave the launch speech has kindly allowed us to publish it below.

Carl Shuker, photo courtesy of Aaron Smale

I first encountered David Coventry five years ago – I was in London and external assessor of a project he’d been working on at Victoria that year for his MA in creative writing. When his novel arrived the package was roughly the same size and shape as a 14” cathode-ray TV. On final extraction from the courierbag the massive thing showered me like a destination wedding in the confetti from the grotesquely oversized spiral binding that was pitifully struggling to hold it together. Which is to say it was big. It was also brilliant. I wrote on it at the time: “Shipton-Pearce is a grand, colossal, twilit thing of astonishing range and scope.”
I kept in touch with him and know that David worked on this book for years. There’s a sort of trope that another David – Foster Wallace – lifted from Don Delillo in an essay called “The Nature of the Fun”: it’s about your unfinished book being a damaged infant for which you’re responsible. It’s unfinishedness and flawedness is your fault and responsibility and is directly attributable to your incompetence as a writer. The child follows you around, refusing to let you go out, sleep, eat your dinner in peace. You love it, and are devoted to it. It moans inconsolably, dribbles on your french fries, thus ensuring your undivided attention to making it whole.
It takes a lot of guts and discipline to raise a child; to write and revise just one novel. It takes a whole other order of guts and discipline, when publishers are lazy, frightened and unsure, to say, well that kid’s just going to have to go in the naughty cupboard, and I’m starting a new one. It takes more than discipline and persistence; as David writes, it takes a marvelous, transformatory kind of madness. He shelved that book to work on the book we launch today: The Invisible Mile. In 2012 David wrote to describe the new book to me: “1928 Tour de France. Lots of drugs, lots of religion. I’m thinking of introducing spacecraft and spacemen.”
The book you’re holding in your hands shows how he held true – almost – to that vision. The Tour de France in its chaotic years post-World War I: raced on cobblestones and shingle tracks, riding wooden-rimmed, fixed-gear bikes. To change gear when they hit the mountains a rider has to remove his rear wheel, flip it and refix the chain to the larger cog prepped beforehand on the other side. You’ve got two options and in the Pyrenees you know neither of them are good.
Not only did David shelve a brilliant novel, he went and wrote another brilliant novel, and this about the damn Tour de France. The Listener called The Invisible Mile: “A truly extraordinary first novel.” Stuff wrote, “brilliant … an important and impressive debut.” So much of our contemporary literature avoids the high style, and is damned with the faint praise, “quietly astonishing.” The Invisible Mile is high as a kite and loudly and profoundly astonishing. This is a book full of blood, darkness, speed, injury, insight, comedy, warmth, and bashfulness too. This is the kind of book where the narrator can say: “I find myself thinking of Harry’s wife as he writes to her of our day. Back home she is so pregnant we get shy when her name is mentioned.”
Then he can say: “I’m sweating like old dynamite.”
Here’s the NZ-Australia team sipping drinks and watching two riders from the Belgian team brawling in the street in a tiny village in the south of France:

Harry drinks the brandy and winces. He wipes at his mouth. “You know, if we were Greeks and we were back in the age.”
“They’d be starkers.”
“And we’d be doing this race starkers,” he says.
“Lord,” Percy says. “The Lord’s mercy.”
“Our bits waggling about.”
“And they’d kill us afterwards,” I say. “Lions they haven’t fed for two months.”
“That was the Romans.”
“Romans, lions. Who cares? The point is we’d be starkers.”
“And then, they’d put us in a corner and stone us,” Harry says. “They’d stand around throwing rocks.”

David’s prose is always doing this: he’s funny, he’s dry, he’s dark. But there is always a mature artist’s warmth and rhythm, and a glow of discovery. David’s narrator, and thus David, is constantly talking and thinking about awe and thus he’s able to write the aria of awe that’s fitting for a 3000-mile race to the top of the Pyrenees.

Because prose is a competitive sport, and an endurance sport too. From a writers’ perspective, the problem with a project like the Tour de France is that with this material you’ve got a long way to go and simultaneously nowhere to go. 300 pages in the present tense about a race with finite boundaries – not just a beginning and an end but a whole lot of predetermined French towns to hit along the way. You’ve got nowhere to go. Characters race, they stop, they’re tired, they talk. Nice French town looks like this. They race, they stop, they talk.
How do you approach such a task and how do you approach the Tour? The ambition simply to write an event of this gravitas is one thing. Doing justice to it is another. The pressure this externally imposed structure puts on a work of art is immense: but I think some of the answer is you have to play the changes, to show your secret list of gear inches for each stage. You have to show what you can do. With lists, memories, geography, arcs within arcs, dialogue, research, pacing, poetry, action, insight. This is the challenge and David revels in it.
The rest of the answer to how you get this book done is – and it subsumes the variations you can play and it helps nobody, really – is talent.
David writes about it too, about talent, when his unnamed narrator thinks finally, finally he’s going to win a stage. He’s going to pass the Yellow Jersey, current champion of the Tour, unbeatable freak of nature Nicolas Frantz of Luxemburg. Narrator is grunting, spitting, shouldering his way through the peloton, dying for this. Suddenly he’s neck and neck with Frantz. Beside him Frantz shouts, “Look at me. Look at my bike.” The narrator passes him. The narrator wins.
They coast together a while. Here’s David’s narrator:

Finally he dismounts and I too step from my machine and I go to him and stand beside him. We both look at his bike, it is not an Alcyon bike. It is not a man’s bike. It seems half-sized, though it’s not. It is a woman’s bike with small cogs made for the village, its handle bars a simple set for riding upright, its seat sprung for comfort and its frame angled so a lady might not undo her honour as she dismounts. A hollow there, and a hollow in my body and I know not how to fill it until I remember to breathe and what the man in Colombo had said. Breathe, be mindful of breathing.

The thing with Frantz is just talent. It doesn’t matter about the constraints. You just have to be good enough. It’s the same with prose. I’d like to proudly welcome this talent and this amazing book into Unity, and the literature. The Invisible Mile by this chap, David Coventry.

David Coventry signs for a full crowd at Unity Books

 The Invisible Mile is available now at all good bookshops and through our online bookstore.

Monday, 8 June 2015

June newsletter

David Coventry's debut novel is set during the 1928 Tour de France. It re-imagines the tour from inside the peloton, where the test of endurance for one rider becomes a psychological journey into the chaos of WW1 a decade earlier. David spoke to us about how he came to writing the book.

"I used to be the research manager at the NZFA (now Nga Taonga: Sound and Vision) and all questions pertaining to the content and usage of the collections came through me. In late August 2012 I received an email from Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race fame. He was asking for footage of a cyclist named Harry Watson, who I was utterly unfamiliar with. I did a bit of research to see if I might be able to help out. As soon as I saw Watson’s fairly thin Wikipedia page, that he was referred to as ‘The Priest’ during the Tour de France I just knew I was about to start my next writing project. It was the connect between history, sport and religion that immediately excited me. I heard a rhythm and a voice, went home and started writing."

David says that the link between sport and religion has always interested him.

"I adore sport and find the shape of emotions that spill out similar to what I’ve sensed in the religious activities and organisations I have spent a lot of time around during different occupations and eras of study. I’m fascinated with the compulsion of both, fascinated with the strange binding connections the dramas lend to cultures’ ideas of themselves; ideas of nationhood and individuality."
The Invisible Mile will be launched by novelist Carl Shuker at Unity Books on Thursday 11 June, 6pm–7.30pm.
All welcome.

Readers' Salon

The Readers' Salon with Anna Smaill and Bridget van der Zijpp on Wednesday 3 June at Vic Books was a sold out event, and huge fun. We look forward to running more of these events in the near future.


Thanks to all our writers and the keen readers who took part in another successful Auckland Writers Festival.

We were delighted to be present when Stephanie de Montalk received the Nigel Cox Prize for her book How Does It Hurt? after her AWF event. Susanna Andrew, who organises the prize alongside Unity Books, said that in a year where there are no book awards, they couldn't let How Does It Hurt? go unnoticed.

"It is a book Nigel Cox would have been in awe of. At a talk at the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival, Stephanie de Montalk said that although she was in constant pain the mere liminal presence of books, the spines (in particular of New Zealand books) in her sightline gave her something; the presence of others, that fact of the books’ existence was a comfort. Though we’re not sure she used the word comfort. We are glad then that the second Nigel Cox Award for 2015 and $1000 worth of book vouchers from Unity Books Auckland can be given out to such a praiseworthy recipient." 

Reviews and news

Nicholas Reid finds much to praise in Steven Loveridge's Calls to Arms here.

Roger Horrocks was interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon about his new poetry collection, Song of the Ghost in the Machine. Nice to note this collection was no. 1 on the NZ list in its release week.

"Van der Zijpp has written an adult, thought-provoking and gripping story on a real social issue." Sunday Star Times review of Bridget van der Zijpp's In the Neighbourhood of Fame.

"...her [De Montalk’s] own book deserves to be regarded as a classic on the singularly uncomfortable subject of ongoing human bodily suffering." Stephanie de Montalk's How Does It Hurt? reviewed in  Landfall Review.

"A fantastic first novel," Kerry Donovan Brown's Lamplighter reviewed in Landfall Review

Pip Adam has been building up a strong library of podcast discussions about books with other writers and readers at Better Off Read.

We are pleased to note that all Fairfax book reviews are being posted on the Stuff website now.

Report from London

Fergus Barrowman attended the Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature this past weekend with Elizabeth Knox. He writes:

"I am grateful to Creative New Zealand and the New Zealand Book Council for sending Elizabeth to London, and to the Australia and New Zealand Festival for her invitation. I have enjoyed my role as baggage handler and research assistant.

It was more like an academic conference than any festival I've been to before. You enter by an unmarked King's College door on the Strand, and look for the first of a series of green teeshirted volunteers who conduct you down corridors and up stairs to the rooms in which the events take place. Elizabeth's 2.5 hour world-building workshop was in a standard tutorial room – and because it was under-subscribed it was a great experience for everybody.

My two highlights were both in the chapel. First, a recital of settings of Denis Glover poems: Lilburn's 'Sings Harry', and new commissions from Patrick Shepherd and Lyell Cresswell, beautifully performed by Christopher Bowen and Lindy Tennent-Brown. And a poetry reading featuring Vincent O'Sullivan and three good Australians: Claire Potter, Emma Jones and Omar Musa.

Now we're in Liverpool, where people are still apologising for the weather."

Above picture: Vincent O'Sullivan reads at King's College Chapel.

Monday, 11 May 2015

6 questions for Roger Horrocks

Poet, filmmaker and biographer Roger Horrocks has a new poetry collection, Song of the Ghost in the Machine out now. Ahead of his launch at Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland on this Wednesday, we asked him a few questions.

You say about writing poetry that it is 'almost always a process of looking inside’ – do you think that poetry in particular equips you to do this better than say with prose? Why use poetry to put these thoughts in order, and not say, an essay?

Poetry is like music in that it requires a writer to take great care with the rhythm. I enjoy that challenge.  At the same time, I think too many contemporary poems are as short and limited in scope as generic pop songs. Poets paint themselves into a corner by feeling they must be lyrical in a conventional way. I like lyricism but I also want poetry to think and argue more. What’s wrong with the idea of a ‘poem essay’?  Lucretius wrote a famous one – “On the Nature of Things” around 40 BC – and there have been plenty of later examples, from Pope to Blake to Stevens.

Song of the Ghost in the Machine is divided into 11 different sections ‘melancholia’, ‘self’, ‘sleeping and waking’ - did you set out to write on particular subjects or did the material accumulate into what I’d almost like to term a poetic-essay?

I’ve always admired the omnivorous kind of long poem that has the appetite to absorb everything – grab-bag poems like Williams’ Paterson, Pound’s Cantos, or Silliman’s Alphabet. I can’t claim to be in their league, but I have also set out to write a book-length poem that will swallow as much of life as possible, in a year of writing.

The book also seems to be a way to explain what it is to exist – both physically and spiritually (or metaphysically) is this a fair description of what you’re doing with this book?

Poetry is almost always about what’s been called ‘the experience of experience.’ But mostly we stay close to the surface of our lives, writing about ourselves and something we’ve seen or felt, so it’s rather like a ‘selfie’ in words. This time I wanted to go deeper and ask basic questions about what it’s like to be alive, the rock-bottom facts of human life. Scientists have a lot of interesting things to say on the subject, and I quote a number of them, but the way we consciously experience our lives remains a mystery.  Scientists refer to this puzzle – how the lump of meat which is our brain produces our personal feelings – as ‘the hard problem.’  Some scientists see our cloud of thought as a kind of mirage and call it ‘the ghost in the machine’ – hence the title of my book. But as the poet John Donne – and the artist Colin McCahon – put it, ‘Each of us has one world, and is one.’ This book happens to be my world, inhabited by a freewheeling ‘ghost,’ and these are its curious songs.

Can you make an argument for poetry? As a publisher of poetry, we’re in a minority – with diminishing attention and readership as people turn to other forms of entertainment and ways to use their time – what is it about poetry that gets you excited? What would you say to a reader to get them interested in your own work?

I don’t think any writer can concentrate on producing their best work if they worry too much about the potential audience and whether their work can compete with Xbox, Fifty Shades of Grey, the World Cup, etc. Of course a publisher and a bookshop-owner does need to worry, and I am profoundly grateful to every person of that kind who risks his or her shirt on poetry books. But as a writer, I want to say how angry I am with the promoters of Rogernomics and its many successors who think of the space of the arts as just another marketplace, and the writer or artist as just another brand. To readers I would say, ‘Don’t reduce your scope to that of a “consumer” looking for “entertainment.” Think about Paul Gauguin’s comment “Art is either revolution or plagiarism”. (This is the artist who made a great painting with the great title: ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’)’

Quoting from your poem ‘The Daybook’: ‘All thinking is wishful, all questions are rhetorical […] There’s no escape/from double talk’. Is writing somehow getting beyond cheap talk or simply another form of wishful thinking?

I guess it’s typical that the lines you quote can be interpreted in more than one way, and they can be taken positively, too. A few lines later I say: ‘I think, therefore I write on the walls of our cave.’  In short, writing is as natural an activity as breathing. But I can’t say exactly what writing is because I have a different view each day. In the end, my book isn’t philosophy or science, it’s irresponsible and unresolved as poetry prefers to be. In the course of my poem I refer to John Keats’s lovely description of ‘Negative Capability’ which is when a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

There is a lament for pen and paper, the physical book in your poem ‘Evolution’ . How is this lament tied to your own thinking and writing?

I can’t imagine anyone who has learned what the Internet has to offer wanting to give it up. But we do need to be aware that every powerful new technology comes with a downside as well as an upside. Otherwise, before we know it, we have swallowed the problems as well as the perks. The Web yields a marvelous wealth of words and images, but it may encourage us to respond to overload by developing a faster, superficial style of reading. The Internet specializes in quick answers, headlines and sound bites. Studies like Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid provide evidence of the mental and social changes this can produce. For some people, life on-line is like a constant diet of fast food. In contrast, reading a book can exercise a different set of mental muscles, which is just as important for adults as for kids. A book stretches our attention-span and reminds us of the benefits of looking at a subject in depth. Poetry offers this experience in an especially heightened and engaging form.  As a reader, I think of myself as having a range of different speeds – there are times when I need to surf through a stack of documents at top speed, but I also value the opportunity to change down to first gear and move slowly through a particularly rich, concentrated piece of writing. I never imagined that books could become an endangered species, but this will happen if we don’t continue to buy them and keep flexing the reading and thinking muscles they have helped to build.

Song of the Ghost in the Machine is out now. You can buy it through the best booksellers or on VUP's online bookshop. p/b, $25.

Monday, 4 May 2015


Two new poetry titles in May

We release David Beach's fourth collection of sonnets this month. Jerusalem Sonnets, Love, Wellington Zoo contains series of sonnets that tackle these three topics in turn. We asked David to talk about this form, and why he can't keep away from it.

"Apart from that I can’t write anything else the reason I keep writing sonnets is that it’s a particularly useful form if unity is the thing you’re most aiming for. Too much shorter than a sonnet and there just isn’t enough of a poem for the unity to seem meaningful. Too much longer and the sharpness of the unity starts to blur. And unity appeals because with that as its engine a poem writes itself (slow though the process might be), the conscious mind put in its place as the lackey of the subconscious."

Our blog this month features a piece written by David about the form and his obsession with it which you can read here.

Jerusalem Sonnets, Love, Wellington Zoo will be in good bookshops on 7 May or you can order it through our online bookstore here.

Songs of the Ghost in the Machine by Roger Horrocks is a free-wheeling philosophical poem that emerged during the walks he took over one year of his life. About the book, Roger says that writing poetry is almost always a process of looking inside.

"This time I wanted to go deeper and ask basic questions about what it’s like to be alive, the rock-bottom facts of human life. Scientists have a lot of interesting things to say on the subject, and I quote some of them, but the way we all consciously experience our lives remains a mystery. Scientists refer to this puzzle – how to get from our physical brain to our personal feelings – as ‘the hard problem'. Some think it’s just an illusion and call it ‘the ghost in the machine’ – hence the title of my book. But as the poet John Donne and the artist Colin McCahon put it, ‘Each of us has one world, and is one.’ This book happens to be my world, inhabited by a freewheeling ‘ghost’, and these are its curious songs."

Song of the Ghost in the Machine will be launched by Murray Edmond at Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland on Wednesday 13 May, 5.45pm.




Auckland Writers Festival 2015 fantastic line-up of writers includes some VUP literati. Stephanie de Montalk talks about her incredible memoir, How Does It Hurt? with Deborah Shepard on Sunday 17 May at 10.30am.

Helena Wisniewska Brow (Give Us This Day) talks with fellow memoirist, American writer Daniel Mendelsohn about loss, discovery and heartfelt family matters on Saturday 16 May at 12pm.

Bridget van der Zijpp (In the Neighbourhood of Fame) appears in a reading event alongside Australian writer Tim Winton, and fellow New Zealand novelists Tracey Farr and Laurence Fearnley.

Wystan Curnow (The Critic's Part) talks about the role of the critic with Shakespeare critic Peter Holland on Friday 15 May at 2.30pm.

Airini Beautrais (Dear Neil Roberts) appears in a reading event with international writers on Friday 15 May at 4pm.

We're delighted that Caoilinn Hughes is a finalist in the Royal Society Science Book Prize this year for her poetry collection Gathering Evidence. The prize announcement will be made by Dr Philip Ball following his event on Friday 15 May at 5.30pm.

Finally, we were excited to learn that VUP's Ashleigh Young is a finalist in this year's Sarah Broom Poetry Prize alongside Diana Bridge and Alice Miller. The prize, one of New Zealand's most generous, is worth $12,000. The three finalists will read in a free session at the AWF15 on Sunday 17 May from 1.30-2.30pm in the Upper NZI Room, Aotea Centre, Auckland. Irish poet and this year's Sarah Broom Poetry Prize judge, Vona Groarke, will announce the winner at this event.

AWF15 programme is online here.


Readers' Salon After-hours at Vic Books


Join us for a glass of wine as we chat to writers Anna Smaill (The Chimes, Hachette) and Bridget van der Zijpp (In the Neighbourhood of Fame, VUP) about memory, music and fame in an insightful evening especially for book-lovers, hosted by writer Kirsten McDougall at Vic Books, Kelburn.

Share in the conversation as Vic Books is transformed into an intimate after-hours readers' salon on Wednesday 3 June, from 6.15pm–7.30pm.

Tickets $15 – includes a glass of wine & shared platters, plus 10% off featured books on the night.

Tickets are strictly limited and can be purchased on our webpage here

The news

The news hasn't been that good for the NZ literary world recently, with NZ Book Month being put on hold indefinitely, the loss of sponsorship for the Katherine Mansfield short story competition, and no New Zealand book awards to celebrate this year. It's nice to see a small initiative started today on twitter where in lieu of NZ Book Month, people are being encouraged to tweet a favourite NZ book each day for a month using the hashtag #NZBookMonthMay. Also good to see Eleanor Catton's Horoeka Reading Grant website up and running and now looking for editorials on the state of play in NZ literature.


Ian Wedde reviews Wystan Curnow's The Critic's Part in Journal of New Zealand Literature, 2015.

"...there is not often that I can read with such enjoyment a book built on a theoretical platform I'd decline to share. I think this enjoyment is made possible by the writer's generosity [...] to the objects of his close attention, to his readers, and to his belief in the need for such 'transactional relations.' And, in the end, to his generous fidelity to his own convictions."

Susanna Andrew reviews Bridget van der Zijpp's In the Neighbourhood of Fame in Metro, May 2015.

"The writing is marked with empathy and perception. Van der Zijpp is good at fathoming the odd ways in which people think and love and miscommunicate, and she puts me in mind of Zadie Smith's writerly commandment that 'the time to make your mind up about someone is never'."

You can also hear an interview with Bridget on Radio NZ here.

Briar Lawry reviews Stephanie de Montalk's How Does It Hurt? on Booksellers NZ

"Regardless of your own experiences with chronic pain, How Does It Hurt? is an important and beautiful book, both tragic and hopeful."

Friday, 1 May 2015

On Sonnets

"Generally poets viewing the universe, post-Darwin, post-Freud, post-J. K. Rowling, as meaningless, continue to feel the need to incorporate a fair amount of meaninglessness in their poems, the results not so impressive, partly simply because it’s hard to distinguish between chaos representing the chaos of life, and chaos which is just chaos."

This month we have a new poetry collection by David Beach, Jerusalem Sonnets, Love, Wellington Zoo. This is David's fourth collection of sonnets, and here he explains the attraction of the form.

David Beach winning the 2008 Prize in Modern Letters

Before I was a foe to Romanticism writing chopped-up prose sonnets I was a foe to Romanticism writing chopped-up prose shortish poems some of which in a bad light could have been mistaken for sonnets. As an example of early work, the following poem was published in The Canberra Times and then a little later in my self-published first collection ‘Apropos of Nothing’ (1993):


The film is over and lights
start to appear in the lot:
they flick on at random,
just a few at first, white
canes tapping the dark;
then the place goes up like
paper – a gorgeous pit where
the wild, jousting beams have
their few minutes fray until
the cars fly into the night.

Reading this poem now, I think it does contain a sense of the self being provisional. However, I wouldn’t call it anti-Romantic. Indeed it has quite a whiff of epiphany––the view mightn’t be from a mountain top, but it’s from some vantage, and some sort of significance is perceived. I might have felt I was battling the Romantics, but clearly had far from escaped Romanticism’s clutches myself. That’s not to say the poem is a bad one. Contradictions can be the stuff of art and the first year or so I was writing poems I think the contradictions in my position were productive.
However, that didn’t last, and over a period of a few years the poems dried up, until eventually I gave up poetry ‘for good’. That turned out to mean for a couple of years, when trying a few things I stumbled into writing sonnets. And writing to a form seemed to provide a kind of missing ingredient. In fact I saw the sonnet as a frame as much as a form. And having the poem ‘out there’, in some sense already occupying its space, prompted the lighter tone which had been eluding me.
The tone, as well as being lighter, seemed dare I suggest it, modern. I realise that the notion that poems might be modern should hardly be expressed nowadays without accompanying hollow laughter. But is a century of sparse achievement, more sparse the nearer one comes to the present, a reason for poets to give up on the avant-garde project?

The task can be put as how to write as a self which isn’t a soul, isn’t sovereign over the brain it’s a function of, doesn’t have even a secular essence it’s so shaped by circumstances. And the chief problem is that selves have a natural, probably a healthy, disinclination to be demythologised––it’s one thing to intend modernity, quite another to prevent the self insinuating itself back onto centre stage.

Restricting myself to sonnets helped with this problem because it did away with the Romanticism inherent in a ‘content generates form’ approach––previously indeed I would never have written to a form on the very grounds that to do so was inauthentic. And by calling a sonnet simply 14 lines, each approximately ten syllables, I had a form (frame) which fitted very well with my prose-does-the-job style. It became a case of cutting poetry back to its essentials––a doing away with the aura of the self by doing away with the aura of the poem.

It might be objected that just by deciding what a poem will be about the self grabs the microphone. I would point though to the cumulative weight of the choices made in writing a poem, and here I think, if the focus is wholly on the poem’s subject, whatever it is, the self’s pretensions can be reined in–– the poet ‘losing’ him or herself in the effort to do justice to the subject, to write on it with all possible vigour.

I’m not suggesting that prose sonnets are a magical pass to the modern. Indeed Romantics and other truth-tellers have been responsible for most recent prose-style poems, sonnets or otherwise––writing unpoetically because they want to convey their truths clearly. My point though is that the unpoetical approach is also available to poets who dispute truths exist. Generally poets viewing the universe, post-Darwin, post-Freud, post-J. K. Rowling, as meaningless, continue to feel the need to incorporate a fair amount of meaninglessness in their poems, the results not so impressive, partly simply because it’s hard to distinguish between chaos representing the chaos of life, and chaos which is just chaos. Prose sonnets, and especially sonnet sequences, are a way for moderns to keep hold of clarity and eloquence. Romantics hate the idea that their suffered-for wisdom and heart’s blood feelings don’t in fact come with any authority––that these are simply the product of the history behind any individual. To be modern is to accept what a complete accident any of one’s particular personal bedrock amounts to. And one sonnet after another, rocking out in pirate prose, seems exactly suited for this aesthetic of ‘anything could just as easily have been anything else’. The form maybe won’t generate the content, but at least it won’t subvert it.

Jerusalem Sonnets, Love, Wellington Zoo is released on 7 May, $25, pb.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

4 Questions for Bridget van der Zijpp

Bridget van der Zijpp's second novel, In the Neighbourhood of Fame, will be launched on Wednesday 8 April in Auckland (6.30pm at Portland Public House, Kingsland).

Ahead of her launch we asked her a few questions about her new book.

Bridget van der Zijpp (photo by Jessie Casson)

Your new novel is about fame: the dark side, the trappings, the way in which a famous person becomes public property – what made you want to explore these ideas?
When I first started thinking about this book (a while back) there was a spate of cases with celebrities being accused of various misdemeanours.  Controversially they all received name suppression but there was a lot of gossip about, and there were quite strenuous efforts by some people to find ways to expose them.  I found that rather large and gleeful appetite for the celebrity downfall interesting.  It made me start to think about what it would be like to be the celebrity who has the tide of popularity turn against them.
Also, in the past I’ve worked both within the media and as a publicist, and so I think I’m drawn to ideas about how individuals attract and sometimes manipulate forms of media attention.  And how fame impacts on a person’s sense of self. 
It seems like a lot of people these days want fame, but when it happens it can be a shock and there is definitely a downside to it.  It takes a certain kind of courage to put something out into the public realm –  whether it’s an album of songs, a book, a film, a play, or a performance – and while there are obviously rewards, you also open yourself up to discourse and criticism and it can feel very personal and destructive.   In the book the musician Jed Jordan’s second album has bombed, and he says: “If you do something that you think is really good, and most people don’t get it, then who are you really? Somebody who just happens to be out of step with the world at that moment?  Or is your taste off?  And if you can’t work your head around an answer to that question then it gets harder.”
It is also concerned with rumour over fact, social media replacing reporting and the way in which social media confuses or creates its own reality – is this something you’d been thinking about for a while?
Social media is the contemporary instrument of fame.  It’s evolving very rapidly, changing a lot even in the time I’ve been working on this, and while it offers many new avenues for awareness, it also increases the risk of harm too. 
While personally I’m more a lurker than a participant, I’ve noticed there often seems to be a view in that arena that because celebrities put themselves out there, seeking the limelight, then its open slather on them.  At least in the traditional media there tends to be a general restraint because they are more aware of defamation and damages, but in social media a lot of what is said is unguarded and highly emotive.  Regulation isn’t easy, and truth doesn’t matter half as much as the fun of the take-down.
Fame is actually a bit of an uncontrollable beast, and then there is the matter of the so-called Trolls or as they are described in the book “the puerile imbeciles who are waiting, like a row of nasty gulls on a power line, for something to draw their notice.”
A number of voices tell the story. Did you use the multi-voice narrative as a way to explore the different angles of entry to the story? All the characters have a different version of reality don’t they?
The story in In the Neighbourhood of Fame is essentially about the musician Jed Jordan (who could best be described as once-famous), but he is never heard from directly, only seen through the eyes of three different narrators.  Evie, his childhood friend who recently returned to the neighbourhood with her son, and can’t shake off a sense of admiration for him that started when she was a teenager; Lauren, his wife, who manages a local theatre and is bored with him now, and looking for distractions;  and 15 year old Haley who casually meets him in the dog park and becomes slightly fascinated with him.
Sometimes he is almost a periphery character in their daily lives, but it’s more about how they see him, and how they experience his “fame”, and how they unwittingly impact on it.
In choosing to do this I was playing around with the idea that fame is not really something that you possess yourself, it’s always placed upon you by others, and people come to somebody else’s fame through their own slant. 
There are a number of broken/dysfunctional relationships in the book – between partners, and between parents and their children – a lot of people talking past each other, which seems a continuation of some of the relationships in your first novel Misconduct – is this a theme/idea you feel drawn to as a writer?
I guess the partners, parents and children are the ‘Neighbourhood’ part of the story.
I don’t think I realised there was any similar underlying theme in the two books until I’d almost finished this one.  If there is one, it’s possibly about how much you might forgive a person’s dysfunction if you admire their talent.  The truly creative people I’ve known are often dreamy, and a bit removed, jealous of their time and space, and alternatively inspired and insecure.  Hard to live with, basically.  But if they make some form of incredible art is that so seducing that you can forgive some of their failings?  I think I’m personally quite interested in where that line is.
Also I think that in general I am drawn as a writer to what goes on in the underbelly of relationships – where people don’t quite know themselves, and can’t quite say what they mean.
In the Neighbourhood of Fame is available from our online bookstore and in all good bookstores nationwide from 9 April.
$30, p/b.

April newsletter

Two new titles in April

Vincent O'Sullivan's long writing career includes seventeen collections of poetry which sit alongside his novels, biography, plays and short stories. Being Here: Selected Poems is the first book to survey the entire span of his poetry, from Bearings (1973) to new poems first published in this volume.

Praise for Vincent O'Sullivan:
'You can't ask much more of a poet than wit, profundity and elegance and they're all here in spades.'
– Chris Miller

'There is a kind of luminous spirituality about O'Sullivan's poetry, that long after you have read the poems, continues to reside in the objects or situations the poems describe.'
– Anna Jackson on Lucky Table

Vincent's most recent collection of poetry, Us, Then, won the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry and he is the current New Zealand Poet Laureate.

Being Here is published as a hardback and features a striking Karl Maughan painting on the dust jacket. $60, available online and in all good bookstores from 9 April.

We launch Being Here at 5.30pm on Wednesday 15 April at the National Library (see side panel for details). All welcome.

The trappings of fame, the power of social media and dysfunctional relationships play out in Bridget van der Zjipp’s vivid new novel In the Neighbourhood of Fame.

The novel is centred around rock musician Jed Jordan, whose song ‘Captain of the Rules’ made him famous over ten years ago. Jed’s story is told by three female narrators, each with a different take on his fame: his childhood friend who is caught up in a long-held sense of admiration for him; his theatre manager wife who is frustrated with his drifting; and the 15-year-old who meets him in the dog park and finds that when she talks about him people are interested.

“I was playing around with the idea that fame is not something you possess yourself, it’s always placed upon you by others, and people come to somebody else’s fame through their own slant,” says Bridget.

In the Neighbourhood of Fame is Bridget's second novel. Her first novel, Misconduct, was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize and for the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards Best First Book of Fiction. She lives in Auckland.

Published in paperback ($30) and available from our online store and in all good bookstores from 9 April.

We launch the novel in Auckland on Wednesday 8 April, 6.30pm, Portland Public House (see side bar for details). All welcome.

Bridget will also be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival 2015 at a free reading with Tracy Farr, Laurence Fearnley and Tim Winton.

Gathering Evidence continues to gather prizes

Congratulations to Caoilinn Hughes. Gathering Evidence has been named a finalist in the Royal Society of New Zealand 2015 Science Book Prize. It is one of five titles shortlisted for the prize which is awarded to a title 'which communicates scientific concepts in an interesting and readable way for a general audience.' The prize winner will be announced at the Auckland Writers Festival in May. We were delighted to hear from Caoilinn that Gathering Evidence has also won the Irish Times' Strong/Shine Award for Best First Collection. Gathering Evidence was also a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Auckland Writers Festival 2015

The international line-up for the AWF15 looks fantastic. We are very pleased that four writers from VUP's stable will be attending. Airini Beautrais, Bridget van der Zijpp, Helena Wisniewska Brow, Stephanie de Montalk and Wystan Curnow will be featured on panels and at reading events. See the full programme of events.

We are delighted to see that the Nigel Cox Unity Books Award is being presented at the AWF15. This award was founded by Unity Books Auckland owner Jo McColl and Susanna Andrew to commemorate Nigel's love of writing and reading. The award is given to a 'New Zealand writer unknowingly selected for the prize based on their "exceptional way with words".'

Keep up with our forthcoming titles

If you want to know what we will be publishing later in the year, you can check out our forthcoming titles webpage which we update throughout the year. As soon as the myriad tasks of publishing are finalised we put them up on this page. We are also now including sample chapters so readers can get a taste of the books to come.

Events in April

Book launch: In the Neighbourhood of Fame
Bridget van der Zijpp's new novel will be launched at 6.30pm on Weds 8 April at The Portland Public House, 463 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland.

Poetry event: Being Here Together
Tuesday 14 April, 12.10pm–1.10pm. Six local poets join Poet Laureate Vincent O'Sullivan at National Library, Programme Room, Ground Floor, 70 Molesworth St, Wellington. Poets include: Morgan Bach, Claire Orchard, Lynn Davidson, Harley Bell, Catherine English and Margaret Moores.

Book launch: Being Here, Selected Poems
Vincent O'Sullivan's new Selected Poems will be launched at 5.30pm on Weds 15 April at the National Library, Ground Floor, 70 Molesworth St, Wellington.

This is a double launch with Steele Roberts for Let the Writer Stand: The work of Vincent O’Sullivan, edited by Judith Dell Panny.

Author event
Helen Riddiford, biographer of George Evans (A Blighted Fame) presents a talk about Evans: ‘Nui Nui  Rangatira’:  Dr George Evans, his role in the New Zealand Company and his Relationship with Māori.” At 1pm, Friday 17 April at the Wellington City Library, Ground floor.