Tag Archives: Quentin Wilson Publishing

Poetry Shelf review: A Runner’s Guide to Rakiura by Jessica Howland Kany

A Runner’s Guide to Rakiura: A Novel, Jessica Howland Kany
Quentin Wilson Publishing 2022

Jessica Howland Kany grew up on Manhattan Island, New York City, and has lived on Rakiura Stewart Island for twenty years. She edits Stewart Island News, does desk work for her fisherman husband, raises her sons, and runs. She has worked in the local pub, in various libraries, trapping rats, running a myths and legends club for local children. Her writing has appeared in a number of magazines: Running Times, North & South, New Zealand Geographic, New Zealand Gardener, Wilderness Magazine, Sky & Telescope, The Island Review.

A Runner’s Guide to Rakiura is Jessica’s first novel, and I find it gripping on a number of surprising levels. It’s one of those rare occasions where I would like to sit in a cafe, preferably on Rakiura, and talk about the novel with other readers. It seems to have achieved scant attention in the media bar a few interviews, and didn’t make the NZ Book Award Fiction longlist. I find it rich, complex, thrilling. Lynn Freeman enthused about it, as one of three favourite books of 2022 (see RNZ link below).

For me, the first gripping hook is location. It grips through its succulent depiction of place. That I have been to Rakiura on two occasions makes a difference. Once with a bunch of poets to share a feast of food and to perform to locals in the hall. On that visit, I got up before the sun and watched daylight appear, sat next to the lapping tide, just me in the dark with the stretching beauty. Wonderful visit! And once with my partner, to stay in a cottage courtesy of friends, go for walks, eat mouthwatering fish and chips on the waterfront, go to the Sunday pub quiz, eat in the sublime restaurant up the hill, go for more long walks, chill and recharge. Both occasions were memorable.

The depiction of place and people feels achingly real in the novel, to the point I wondered if the characters were based on Rakiura locals. But in an interview for Stuff, Jessica underlines that the community was too small to go borrowing real people for her characters. She told Susy Ferguson that the only “real” person she mined was herself, and that bits of her appear in all the characters. I spent a weekend reading the book, and it was like I spent a weekend on the island. I could smell, taste and sense it.

Books can be a glorious form of travel.

The second gripping hook is the structure of the novel. The title suggests it is a running guide, but it is also a guide to the island, to history, to life and living, to food, to love. Don’t expect a traditional narrative structure with a beginning, middle and end, and a steady plot line. It is a fabulous compendium of various writings that range from activities to do on the island, poetry, Moby Dick, a set of clues, a genealogy, a treasure map. Sentences are crafted in exquisite ways from the traditional to the linguistically playful. Individual words matter: piquant, puzzling, powerful. Punctuation is also playful – and it works! I feel like I am in the company of someone who adores language and what language can do.

The third gripping hook is that the protagonist, like the author herself, is an outsider who has moved in, who engages with the community in various ways, and sees things in prismatic lights. “Things” become both strange and familiar as I read. Jessica is fascinated with language because the local jargon is often near incomprehensible. She keeps a notebook. She rolls the words on her tongue and in her ear, and the vernacular becomes a treasury. Language is an entry point to an else or otherwhere. For me, it reinforces the notion that place (think people and physical location) is never singular. Place offers multiple fascinating narratives.

The fourth gripping hook is the way a treasure hunt adds to the magnetic pull of reading. Herein lies the need for clues and maps, discovery and a compulsion to search, the links to war and loss. I became more and more gripped by the hunt but I also realised that that the treasure was not just a buried box. It was treasure of the heart, the treasure of finding one’s place in the world, and in a small community.

Yes, this is a guide to running, but it is a guide to so much more. I found it addictive and affecting, it lifted me out of self isolation, and took me to Rakiura for a weekend retreat, for my third “visit”. I loved it.

RNZ interview with Susy Ferguson, Nine to Noon

RNZ Lynn Freeman picks the novel as one of her favourite books of 2022

Interview with Michael Fallow for Stuff

Poetry Shelf review: Emma Neale’s The Pink Jumpsuit

The Pink Jumpsuit, Emma Neale, Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2021

Emma Neale, novelist and poet, has recently released her first collection of shorter prose pieces. Short fictions and tall truths, we read on the cover, and that gets me musing on the way fiction might draw upon the truth of experience while also liberating imagination. Perhaps the fiction that affects me most embodies kernels of human truth no matter how the fiction stretches and concertinas. And that is exactly what The Pink Jumpsuit does – and it affects me deeply.

The title of the book, and the title of a short story inside, references the cover work by Sharon Singer (‘Wanderlust’, 2019). The painting is itself like a short fiction and a tall truth, with its bounding enigma, accruing questions, miniature narrative. The rough texture of the acrylic on canvas renders everything a little more vulnerable, a great deal more mysterious. The diminutive figure, standing stock still in an ambiguous setting against an ambiguous dark, is a whirlpool of determination, despair, resignation, hope. Emma’s story references the painting in an epigraph and admits: ‘”Wanderlust” somehow leads me away from any specific narrative I think the artist might be trying to tell, and tips me sideways, Alice-wise, into a free-fall of memory.’ Emma’s story pivots on an awkward gift (‘a slim-fit boiler suit in a light denim fabric’) that the father gives the mother on his return home. This genius heart-smacking story traverses gift giving, relations rupturing, the way silences are like the packed suitcases on the figure’s head in ‘Wanderlust’, and the way we may never truly know anyone (if indeed ourselves). The story heads back towards the painting and you go keeling through the what you have heard so far and what you see when you fall into the wanderlust image. Then there’s the cracking hit of the final line.

Decades ago I bought an American anthology Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories (1987) and it felt fresh and rich in writing possibilities. I loved the idea of fiction suddenness, was excited by the ultra short. Years later we have flash fiction, short fiction, prose poems (and more I am sure) jostling and connecting and opening wide the short story paradigm. Emma’s collection returned me to the notion of suddenness as an appealing reading effect. Read Emma’s collection and you most definitely experience the sudden as you jolt or gasp or shudder. Then again, think of this collection as a deftly composed piece of music, because the reading effects are multiple. You will also imbibe the slower paced, enjoying a story like a slow-release tablet on the tongue (or in the heart say).

Suddenness goes hand-in-hand with the power of the twist. The twist in the tail or the gut or the heart of a story. Take Emma’s ‘Worn once’, the best break-up story ever (reviewers seem drawn to this story!). I refuse to tell you what happens and dilute the effects as you read. Or take ‘Party games’, the child’s birthday written on extreme-nightmare setting, and experience the sudden jolt. Ah, these stories have to be read to be delighted in. Creepiness might creep up on you, the sharp edges and debris of living, the tidal slap of despair, fear, wonder, joy.

Any book by Emma Neale underlines what a supreme wordsmith she is. At times I stop and admire the sentences like I might admire the stitching of a hand-sewn garment.

Like Emma free-falling into memory, sideways skating after looking at ‘Wanderlust’, I am free-falling and sideways skating with this glorious book. I am free-falling into the power of truths, diverted by fiction, the dark the light, the raw edge of human experience. and this matters, this matters so very much.

First time I have done this on the blog! I would like to give at least one copy of The Pink Jumpsuit away to someone who writes a poem / sudden fiction / short short fiction (300 words or so max) jump-started by Sharon Singer’s ‘Wanderlust’. I would love to post some pieces on the blog. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com by 2nd November.

Emma Neale, a Dunedin based writer and editor, is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry. Her most recent collection isĀ To the Occupant (Otago University Press). In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Quentin Wilson Publishing FB page

Emma Neale website

‘The Pink Jumpsuit’ appears at The Spinoff as an essay.

Interview at NZ Booklovers

Anna Jackson-Scott review Nine to Noon, RNZ National

Carole Beu review at Kete Books

Emma in conversation with Lynn Freeman Standing Room Only RNZ National