Tag Archives: elizabeth knox

Going West 2019: chickens and a fresh wild wind

 

 

I love the hens in the autumn.

They’re beautiful.

I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

They’re everything to me.

 

Ashleigh Young, from ‘Everything’ in How I Get Ready (VUP, 2019)

 

Going West 2019 is not over yet – but the weekend that brings writers and readers together in a warm bush setting is! Mark Easterbrook, the festival’s creative director, tweeted that every one was tweeting about chickens and not ideas – and here I am  wondering how many chickens will make their way into poems. Co-incidentally I finished my Wild Honey session by reading Ashleigh Young’s heavenly poem where chickens are much loved.

Actually when I arrived I switched my car off and thought it must need a new engine as my car sounded like a chicken! I panicked then saw the hen under the car. We all have our hen stories.

But yes the weekend was rich in kōrero, stories, poetry, conversations, connections. Listening to Apirana Taylor perform his poetry, Elizabeth Knox’s terrific oration on Friday night (I felt I was eavesdropping on the train!) and then talk about The Absolute Book with Dylan Horrocks the next day, (oh jumped to the top of my novel pile!) and Witi Ihimaera discussing his new memoir Native Son and seeking forgiveness from his younger self – was breathtakingly good. Restorative.

I loved hearing Vana Manasiadis read from The Grief Almanac. The writers in the museum session were a fresh wild wind blasting through my body reactivating skin and bones and I just adored them: Saraid de Silva Cameron, To’asavili Tuputala, Louise Tu’u, Lucy Zee.

And it was pretty special to sit on stage with Kiri Piahana-Wong and Anne Kennedy, talk about women’s poetry in Aoteaora and hear them read poems by other women.

I missed The Bellbirds on Friday night because I was so tired and had to drive back to Te Henga in the treacherous weather and got lost in the dark driving like an accident-prone snail and found myself driving up a narrow mountainous road ( I have never got lost coming back from GW) with nowhere to turn around and my heart beating wildly. I was on Mountain Road! I took me so long to get home I should have stayed for the Bellbirds. Fergus said they were gorgeous. Everyone was singing their praises. Ah!

This is always a family-like festival – relaxed, warm, empathetic, community building. Things were a little different this year – the seats arranged differently making audience flow easier, the food breaks were different but offered equally delicious fare, and pleasingly some sessions lasted an hour – but whatever changes were made the festival essence makes it a must-attend experience for me. Maybe with a bit more poetry! I was pleased to see many of the visiting authors listen to other sessions – I was disappointed to see so few Auckland writers in the audience. I find the support of writing communities so different in other cities. Ah – but the hall was full, and readers and writers got talking.

Thanks Going West team!

I loved this weekend. I just loved it.

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Two speeches: Elizabeth Knox and Paula Green launch Anna Jackson’s award-winning novella

 

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Anna Jackson with co-winner Avi Duckor-Jones at Time Out Bookstore

 

 

Anna Jackson recently won the 2018 Viva La Novella Prize with The Bed-Making Competition. The competition is open to Australasian writers but this is the first year a New Zealander has won – in fact two did. Avi Duckor-Jones also won with Swim. Both books were published by Australia’s Seizure Press and were recently launched in Wellington (by Elizabeth Knox) and in Auckland (by me).

I adore this book so it gives me great pleasure to share our launch speeches.

 

 

from Elizabeth Knox at Unity Books, Wellington:

Tena Kotou katoa

I am delighted to be launching Anna’s prize-winning novella The Bed Making Competition.  I’m a fan of novellas, a lovely, free, slippery form, partly because no one has yet decided what a well-made novella is supposed to look like, whereas there are plenty of confident and confidently expressed opinions about novels and short stories.  Like novels, a novella tells a sustained story, but in a way that somehow makes it more permissible to leave things out.  The Bed Making Competition gives us five chapters in the lives of two sisters, Brigid and Hillary.  Each chapter is a point of shared or solitary personal crises—solitary in the case of Hillary’s Goldilocks episode at a flat in Christchurch. The longest chapter is the duration of a pregnancy, the shortest a single day and a little run of events that consolidates a character, a relationship, a world view. Years intervene between each of the episodes—for instance Brigid is pregnant with a first child in the central one, then has two growing children in the next. Over and over I had the pleasure of surprise in coming back to the small configuration of sister, friends, parents, partner, children and seeing the changed circumstances, and changed selves, and the work of an almost Elizabethan sense of fortune in their lives—fickle fortune, an artist of whimsy and unease.  I kept wanting to know more, and having to intuit much, and being rewarded by the book’s feeling for the mysteriousness of what happens to people over the course of a lifetime.  These characters make their beds and have to lie in them; they move their beds around to make room for more beds; they climb into bed with a beloved sister and are as happy as a puppy in a basket; or they find themselves in the wrong bed in the wrong house, or bedless at bedtime and sitting on a suitcase.

This is a book about a sibling relationship. All sibling relationships entail some degree of competition.  Hillary and Brigid for the most part aren’t competing for anyone else’s attention—maybe a little for Brigid’s best friend Julia, and Brigid is ever ready to cede even a best friend for a sister’s needs—but never for their parent’s attention—and always for each other’s.  I could say that the novella charts a power relationship between sisters, except “power relationship” doesn’t quite describe the oscillations in their orbits of each other as the gravity of one becomes greater than the gravity of the other, and then swaps back again—back and forth over half a lifetime. The Bed-Making Competition is essentially about this dance, Hillary and Brigid circling each other, taking turns at being the heavier gravitational body. The younger sister waits for the older to come out of her bedroom and listen to her story, waits to have mysterious things explained to her, or for a lead in how behave with their parents, how to feel about being left by mother and father, and with father’s credit card.  Later each waits for the return of remembered moment of glorious closeness.  The novella gets that sense of loving too much, or of not being loved enough, that rises and falls in relationships between sisters.  It gets the necessity of wooing a sister.  Of all other relationships changing at the sudden presence of sister who has been absent too long. It gets being asked to be responsible, to manage a sister’s crisis for the happiness of helpless and aging parents, to manage it as if there’s some managerial magic in just being a sister. What the book doesn’t do is resentment, or disavowal—”I am not my brother’s keeper.”—only the helplessness of being able to do only so much.

This is a book very much about the changing nature of strong relationships.  And it’s serious about those things, but serious with lightness, and an appreciation of mess, mayhem, oddity.  The characters in this book never complain, they’re observant, rueful, they have notions about how to improve their lot – often peculiar and experimental notions.

The story is book-ended by abandonment and death—a mother runs away, followed by a father trying to retrieve her—and then then, in time, that mother is on her deathbed.  The meaningful deathbed exchange the mother and daughter have isn’t about the past, but a conversation conducted as if both of them have a present and future.  The scene is so true to the book’s understanding of people, and true to life, I found it really moving.  This book is moving, and also productive of anxiety. I really worried about the characters at various points.  Books that make me worry about their characters are my favourite kind of books.  The Bed Making Competition is a fine example one of those, a book that mostly caresses its readers and smooths their fur and sometimes startles them into electrified wakefulness by brushing their fur up the wrong way. So, welcome everyone to this caressing and startling book. And thank you Anna.

 

Elizabeth Knox

 

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from Paula Green at Time Out Bookstore, Auckland:

Kia ora koutou katoa

Last night I had a poet anxiety dream about launching this book. I am extremely glad I am not standing on this stepladder in a crumpled cotton dress and muddy gumboots. And I have a little speech written on this piece of paper that I haven’t left it at home.

Auckland University Press launched Anna’s terrific Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems earlier this year – a book that reveals a poetic curiosity in the world, lilting lines that absorb sumptuous detail, intimate attachments to people, places and ideas, an enviable ability to make words and thus poems move and surprise. I loved it.

What a treat to share Anna’s award-winning novella with you this evening when it delivers such similar joys. This is a book of two sisters, Hillary and Bridgid, two shifting voices that we follow through chronological and geographical jumps. The narrative exposes fragility, envy, attachment, yearnings, detachment along with various internal aches and hungers when life throws you off kilter or keeps you on some kind of vital track of living. As teenagers for example the two sisters get inebriated, drink champagne on swings, thrash the credit card, when the father goes in pursuit of the mother who has walked out. They get to eat pizza without salad.

There is so much to love about this book, this small package that is rich in effect.

I adore the way voice pulls you through Anna’s textured writing: it builds character, scene incident, development, and most importantly sister relations.

The details are both sensual and sumptuous: whether of food clothes people or setting. They establish an architecture of the domestic, of family, that is both intimate and revealing.

Little scenes stand out: such as in the art gallery where the prices and titles of Bridgid’s work get mixed up in her small corner of the gallery. Her partner gets most space.

Larger scenes stand out such as when Hillary goes to stay with Bridgid in London. Or the Goldilocks scene in the flat in Christchurch. But you have to read these for yourself!

I was hungry for this book as I read it. I am reminded of reading the honeyed fluency of Katherine Mansfield or Virginia Woolf. The way the novella resembles stream of consciousness but it is ever so beautifully and distinctively crafted. You get caught up in the writing currents and you don’t want to stop reading. It gives me great pleasure to declare this gorgeous book launched and to invite you to read it yourself. Congratulations on the award Anna and on this immensely satisfying read that startles and surprises as much as it draws you into points of recognition.

Paula Green

 

Some photos from the Unity Book launch

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I agree! ‘Inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival wildly successful’

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Helen Rickerby has just posted a slide show from the Ruapehu Writers Festival. And this:

‘We’re still on a high from the fabulous experience that was the inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival in Ohakune last weekend. We were pretty sure it would be a fun and worthwhile event, but it exceeded our expectations in every way. Several participants, including Elizabeth Knox and Paula Green, said it was the best festival they’ve ever been to!

From the opening event on Thursday, which was opened with a karakia by Hune Rapana of local iwi Ngati Rangi and was MCed by Johnny Greene, Head of English at Ruapehu College, we started to suspect we were in for something special. As those of you who were there will know, on Friday, as more and more people arrived, we enjoyed session after session of articulate and brilliant ideas and readings. By Friday afternoon, the room we used for most sessions had reached its capacity of 80–100, and the spill-over people were lounging in the hallway or sitting on the deck, listening through the open French doors. Also through open doors we could hear the bubbling of a stream across the road, and a couple of times a day the speakers needed to pause for a few moments while a train went past on the nearby Main Trunk Line.’

For the rest of the piece and the slide show see here.