Tag Archives: In the hammock

In the hammock: Mary McCallum’s XYZ of Happiness




XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum (Mākaro Press, 2018)



She’s an open window with curtains flapping

whatever the season, one eye always on the outside

from ‘Quick’


Mary McCallum is a novelist, poet and songwriter; her novel, The Blue, won the NZ Book Award in 2007 and she won the inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. Her children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, is an exquisite read and one of my favourite NZ novels for children. In 2013 she established Mākaro Press with its annual Hoopla Poetry series and Submarine imprint. She lives in Wellington.

Mary’s debut collection is like an alphabet of moods that draw upon the weather, love, life, death and family. She writes with an inviting mix of warmth and attentiveness, acute observations of the physical world and an ear tuned to the musicality of the line. I am pulled into feeling her world from the poem that faces the death of Hat (Harriet) and her engagements with life (‘C) to a poem that navigates a drowning with sublime fluidity (‘Vessels’) to the everyday presence of food and domestic gestures, sky and space.


Snapping off the ends of beans is like lips

popping, a pork cookbook is the best place

to find that picture of you and your mum

at Taupō one summer, a turkey too late

in the oven can make a grandmother

cry with hunger (…)

from ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’


There is a steady momentum in the reading, a slow-paced rhythm that grows upon you, yet individual poems are varied in key and style. ‘Sycamore Tree’ is missing vowels as though life becomes hiccupy and fragmented.  ‘Returning’ is a lyrical feast with potent physical detail. ‘Quick’ pulsates with love and image. ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’ is a sensual autobiography.


I know you’re watching

from your house by th path

with a desk by th window

today we’ve stopped

right n front f you

but I can’t move th childrn on

not while they’re spnning

like littl propellers              like

lttl worlds

from ‘Sycamore Tree’


This slim collection might so easily be missed, with its quietness, its loveliness, its pitch to the way we are, but it is a book that holds you immeasurably with both feeling and fluency.


Here it is that we are,

a breath outwards

returning—the gate

on a slant, paint

pulling from the wood,

closes—let it,

let go of the road,

the run of fences, the tin-cut

tilting hills, the world’s

rim—let the dog out

and drive, windows

wound down, the pink

evening light, lavender,

olive trees, cypress.

from ‘Returning’


Mākaro Press page

Read ‘C’ here








In the hammock: Jane Harper’s The Dry






Jane Harper is coming to AWF this year. I will miss her session as it clashes with mine but her debut novel is a top read. Now based in Melbourne, Jane has worked as a print journalist in both the UK (her first home) and Australia. The Dry won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an an unpublished manuscript and was an international bestseller. Her second novel, Force of Nature, awaits me – I got it in the revitalised Paradox Books in Devonport this week.

This is what Ron Rash says on the back cover: ‘The Dry is a marvelous novel that once begun is hard to put down, and once finished even harder to forget’.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk goes back to his small home town after the shocking murder of his childhood best friend and his family. He enters a spider’s web of suspicion and recrimination that is sticky with revelation and side swerves. To be snared in a weblike plot, with no idea of how things will unfold, with writing that is both fluid and evocative, is utterly satisfying. On the one hand you get a thrilling story, but on the other hand, you move deep into the humanity of place. People struggle to survive; they mourn, they fight, they deceive, they aid and they love.

I read this book in one afternoon and for the rest of the day it stuck to everything I did. Highly recommended.


Jane Harper website here








In the hammock: Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends


Sally Rooney, Conversation with Friends, Hogarth, 2017



In the hammock is a new feature on my blog.

This is where I get to share thoughts on books I am reading now – they can be any genre, from any place and any time. I love reading most genres but I have been a novel addict since young. My doctoral thesis was all about novel writing, not poetry! For a number of years I reviewed fiction for The New Zealand Herald and the pleasure in doing so was more important than the pay cheque. I miss it.

I bumped into Dylan Horrocks at the Wellington Writers and Readers Week with a heavy bag – I confessed I was hoping to to read in the gaps so had catered for a number of possible moods that day. It makes a difference – mood reading.

Back home it’s rest and recovery time so I want comfort reading. I am thinking, if you are what you eat, you are what you read. Reading becomes a form of medication, a stepping stone to daydream and loitering in other worlds.

I got a swag of novels last year after trawling The Guardian 2017 picks from other writers. Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends lives up to the recommendation.  She was born in west of Ireland in 1991, studied English at Trinity College in Dublin and has featured in several literary journals. She won the 2017 Sunday Star Times Young Writer of the Year.

This edgy debut novel focuses on Frances, a performance poet and English student in Dublin. She is plagued with doubt, allergic to feeling things, but papers over her vulnerable core and body issues with intellectual flair, her ironic dialogue, her flight patterns. What elevates the novel into essential reading is voice. Dialogue drives character, event, scene, desire and relationships, and the brittle relationships are what kept me reading. Unwillingly to stop!

There are relations with super articulate Bobbi, ongoing girlfriend and ex-lover; an affair with married Nick that intensifies the irony and the papered-over self; and the mother and father held at a distance.

The writing is so immensely fluid and riveting that complicated Frances, with her retreats and veils, her false steps and preservations, adheres in myriad ways. On the one hand this is a glorious portrait of youth and ideas, yet on the other hand, the navigations connect with  lifelong habits of finding and losing your way though oth ideas and experience.

I love it. It is a multi-stranded contemporary love story that sets every pore tingling like a pack of much needed vitamens.