Friday, 29 July 2016

Best Book Design Award

Last night at the PANZ Book Design Awards, James K. Baxter: Complete Prose won the top award for book design. We are thrilled that this magnificent beast (5.5 kgs of books and over one million words) has been recognised for its great design.

The judges report said: "Shortlisted for Best Cover and Best Typography, and winner of the Best Non-Illustrated category, James K. Baxter: Complete Prose excels on all fronts. It is the complete package – an object of beauty that holds the eye and interest, and demands closer attention. The purple ribbons and foiling work in an unlikely – but extremely satisfying – pairing with the buttery three-quarter binding, which holds the gorgeous full-bleed images. These aspects combine to wrap up a tidy internal page layout. The design not only serves the content, it elevates the work of this literary hero, creating a desirable contemporary classic."

Congratulations to Spencer Levine, for his award-winning design. There's a short interview with Spencer below, talking about the Baxter project, and book design in general.

James K. Baxter: Complete Prose, edited by John Weir, VUP: 2015. 
(Grant Maiden Photography)

Q&A with Spencer Levine

First, be honest, do designers actually read the books?

It really depends on the book, so yes and no ––for me, mostly no.

Where did you start with the concept and design for James K. Baxter: Complete Prose?

It started with Fergus––it was his idea that Nigel Brown's work would strongly set the tone for the look and feel.

The heaviness of expression in the chosen triptych gives the box a cloak; the feeling of wearing heavy coat. There is no free space anywhere, just full bleed colour. Then finally on one facet, a flash of calmer colour with the four naked spines. These exposed spines worked well with the feel and heft of the work, and also provided a good material contrast to the case. It gives it a lot of space, and plenty of room to breathe. A lone image of Baxter sits on each book. He's iconic, so an era-specific photograph of him for each volume was enough.  Purple foiled type with a purple place ribbon gives each volume a 'holy' finish.

In your opinion what makes for good book design?

Good covers, and a connection to the material inside them.

Do you try and differentiate the covers for different publishers in terms of the style, or does the book necessarily create this constraint?

It's book first, publisher second... unless you're talking to the publisher!

Is there a publisher (anywhere in the world) that you think is consistently producing good book covers?

I really like Flying Eye books, but there are hit covers all over the place.

(Grant Maiden Photography)

James K. Baxter: Complete Prose, edited by John Weir.
4 hardback volumes with cloth spines presented in a box. Original paintings on box by Nigel Brown.
$200. Available at the best bookshops or through VUP's online bookstore.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Nigel Cox (13 January 1951 – 28 July 2006)

It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since my friend Nigel Cox died. I think about him often, and I am enormously proud to have had a hand in publishing these half dozen essential books:

Below we post a piece Nigel wrote on 28 June 2006. We will never have Nigel’s vapour novels, but I know he wouldn't mind someone else having a go at writing Backyard Oblivion or Half Time at the Woburn Pictures.   

Tonight there will be a gathering at Unity Books Auckland at 5pm.

Thanks to The Spinoff for David Larsen’s NZ Herald review of The Novel That Must Not Be Named and a giveaway. [links coming!]

Thanks to Elizabeth Knox for her thoughts on Skylark Lounge

Nigel Cox

What I Would Have Written 

We all have days when it seems the rain might not stop falling and for me this is one of them. So I thought I’d just get a few things down, see if it cheered me up.

All going well, I’m about, oh, two weeks from the end of some kind of a first draft of my next novel, The Cowboy Dog. With luck, I’ll be able to follow through with my plan to tidy it and then—well, the usual things—more work, publication, and the world keeps turning with one more speck added to its burden.

However, I love my books and no matter what anyone else thinks of them, I for one will be pleased to see it.

With luck that’ll all happen: The Cowboy Dog. Then there’s quite a well-developed plan, between me and Fergus Barrowman, my publisher and close friend, to put together a book of some of my short pieces, most of them published before, that might be made together into a coherent whole. No name for this yet, but a first cut has been made. If he’s forced to, Fergus might have to put this together by himself—no worries.

And then ...

That’s when it gets interesting, for me anyway. Obviously I’ve had lots of time to stare out the window over the last few months. And at night: so many ideas, as though they all want to get their oar in. One that has been stinking around for a year or two is ‘a big family novel’. This is called Half Time at the Woburn Pictures, and consists mainly of smoke and the vaguest of thoughts. The idea is that this one wouldn’t be (too) weird, though I don’t seem to have much control over that; they get weird.

Then there’s a plan to write a novel set in the Masterton of my boyhood. This one has also been around for ages—stinking. Reeking!—and for some reason the title has the word Backyard in it. Backyard Oblivion?

That’s a couple of weeks’ work, easy.

Then you come to a different category of thought. No plot, no location, no shape, no name, but I always wanted to invent my own superhero. It’s a childish notion, and the existing ones from my boyhood—Superman, Batman, etc—have all been thoroughly postmodernised. But I always had a huge amount of time for The Phantom, Captain America, etc, and anyway I just want to—a figure modern and real, a genuine character, in a serious novel (I regard all my novels as serious). Same goes for an alien novel. I know I had a flirtation with aliens in Skylark Lounge, but that one kept itself very well within ‘acceptable’ boundaries. My desire is to go further out.

Some of that sounds a bit immature, and it is, I accept that. But there was a point where I decided not to be too constrained by the notions of what I thought I should be writing, and my writing got better.

But what I’m also thinking about here is (ta-dah) Nigel Cox at sixty-five. At eighty! I always thought I would live until I was seventy and in my mind I’d get better as a writer and become mature (ha!). But definitely improve. And know more and know how to write it. Contemplating it, it’s such a fantastic idea that I have to laugh out loud. But it would have been inevitable, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t everyone? I guess, looking at some writers, the answer is, not necessarily. But I was in hope.

And I still am. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I do expect to get these books written. I can see them sitting on my bookshelf, my impulse to write played out.

In the computer industry they call it vapourware. So, when you think of me (and do it often) please think of my vapour novels. Thank you.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Kerrin P. Sharpe – 4 Questions

Kerrin P. Sharpe is a poet and creative writing teacher who lives in Christchurch. rabbit rabbit is her third collection of poetry.

Your poems often seem to exist in what I think of as a dream space and a time-travelling space; where your mother’s Astrakhan coat is remembered as ‘the angels of stillborn lambs’, or in ‘the mary blanche in situ’ where she builds a ship in her stomach. The descriptions do seem to reach beyond metaphor into a strange wonderland. Can you explain this?

Yes, I suppose they do, though I don't think I have ever thought of it in that way! My poems often seem to me to have a life of their own; I'm a bit like a midwife coaxing and nurturing them into the world and then I'm a little surprised at what has arrived!

I generally begin a poem with an initial idea or image that keeps recurring in my imagination; often it's some memory or image from the past which grows on me or alternatively it may be a story or news item that takes hold of my imagination until I begin to feel I need to write about it. From then on I follow the rough path the poem offers me into that 'dream space'.

When I am writing a poem I often ask myself, 'What is this poem telling me?' I allow the poem's arms to lure me in until the poem suddenly jumps into something else. It is almost as if a new life has emerged and it has become a different poem from the one I first started out with.

My mother did have an Astrakhan coat during the war, and years later she replaced it with a more up-market black one but she still loyally kept the brown Astrakhan one stored away. When she died I remember looking at her old Astrakhan coat and thinking sadly to myself that it had somehow lost the early significance it once had for me, and it was out of those memories that my poem ‘when a crayfish could feed 6 men’ was written.

Many of the poems seem to be different characters speaking—is this how you think about voice in your poetry?

That’s true and I'm rather pleased that you picked that up from reading my poems. I like to think of different characters speaking in my poems with different voices. I want my poems to be faithful to themselves so their individual voices—their characters, if you like—not only need to be authentic but they also need to change, move and adapt as they interact with the main idea or theme of the poem.

For example the woman in my poem ‘the mary blanche in situ’, who builds a ship in her stomach, has a very different voice from the woman who describes her mother's funeral in 'the morning of my mother's funeral her cup is sober-minded', and they are both very different from the voice (or lack of one) of the redundant blacksmith in 'why talk to the bellows' boy when you can speak to the blacksmith', who no longer speaks at all.

The overall theme in my latest collection of poems, rabbit rabbit, is of poems telling stories, and I hope each poem speaks of the power of language and translation. The poems rabbit on, if you like! 

Images of the human body (especially the lungs) recur or are used for metaphor in rabbit rabbit, which give the poems a sense of being ‘earthed’ or at least contained. Can you explain your poetry’s fascination with the body?

I'm very interested in medicine; in fact my husband jokes about my taking a medical health diagnosis book to bed with me for a little quiet reading before I go to sleep! A bit weird, I suppose.

Yes the lungs do often occur in my poems in rabbit rabbit. But when you think of it, lungs are so important to us as human beings and of course we need our lungs for the breath that enables us to talk. As you no doubt have already guessed, rabbit rabbit is a play on the term we often use for someone who is a great talker, as in 'rabbiting on'.

I had a good friend who used to say something like, 'She went rabbit rabbit all day long,' of a mutual acquaintance who she disapprovingly believed talked too much. The phrase always used to make me laugh—I could just imagine these rabbits talking their heads off.

Many of my poems in rabbit rabbit share my fascination with the body and how it works, and I think this is because they too are thinking about and interested in how our bodies work

You’ve put out three collections since 2012—what is with this sudden burst of creative energy?

It was Bill Manhire who originally inspired my love of poetry as a young student in the 1970s. He welcomed me into his creative writing class 'Original Composition' at Victoria University and in doing so he lit a fire that flamed and has never died. Over the following 35 years as I married, had children and focused my life on bringing up my family, the creative writing flame continued to flicker, but as I concentrated on other priorities the flame hibernated (to mix metaphors) over that period.

Eight years ago, with family leaving home and more time for writing, that original flame has roared back into life, and I love my current life of writing and teaching creative writing. I feel as if I am once again fully awake and alive, with lots of memories, ideas and new experiences all clamouring for me to think and write about.

To complete the circle: it was a chance meeting with Bill Manhire in 2011 at my daughter's Victoria University graduation that led to the publication of my first book with VUP. He told me it was time I put a manuscript together for submission, which I did. Fergus Barrowman then accepted my first book and encouraged me to carry on—and I haven't looked back since!

Kerrin P.  Sharpe's third collection of poetry, rabbit rabbit, was launched last week in Christchurch. You can buy it at good bookshops or through our online bookstore here.