Quick Ten with Penelope Todd

Wednesday, 20th July, 2011

Penelope Todd writes for adults, children, and young adults. Her writing has taken her in recent years to Spain, to the Chateau de Lavigny international writers’ residency in Switzerland, and in 2007 to Iowa for the International Writers’ Programme.

In 2001, she was Writer in Residence at the Dunedin College of Education. Her work has been four times short-listed for the New Zealand Post Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards. In 2005 her novel Box received a White Raven Award in Munich for outstanding children’s literature. Zillah (2007) , an exquisite conclusion to the Watermark trilogy, was a finalist for the 2008 New Zealand Post Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards. Penelope has also written a memoir - Digging for Spain: A Writer’s Journey. Her most recent book is a Island, a novel for adults.

Not content with all this Penelope runs Rosa Mira Books, an ebook publishing house, which has just released its second book, a collection of short stories called Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. 


HH: You've got a successful writing career, what made you decide to venture into publishing?

PT: In my experience, the 'writing career' doesn't provide much of an income. My main freelance editing job finished abruptly when Longacre Press left town at the end of 2009. It seemed time to act on the idea I'd had percolating for the past 18 months.


HH: Why did you decide on epublishing as your primary format?

PT: The pragmatic answer is that I had no capital — just a set of skills concerning publishing, a laptop, and a willingness to learn what I needed to.

The altruistic answer is that digital publishing is light-footed, manoeuvrable and to some extent 'greener' than hard copy publishing. Production time is potentially shorter, and publications are made accessible at once to a global readership. Besides that, I’m excited about finding and showcasing exceptional work.


HH: What do you think the biggest challenge is for ebook publishers?

PT: For me, it was the huge amount I had to learn, from the basic premises of running a business, to learning what digital formatting actually was, creating a contract, a website (and so on), and a sustainable way to hold it (and myself) together.

Once the technical aspects have been worked through (and the right people found to help with them) the ongoing challenge is the evolving nature of presentation and marketing — the latter with a far heavier reliance on social media networking and on authors having their own active online presence. A little over a year ago I was told on the release of my new novel that there was nothing for me to do — just sit back and let the (hard copy) media roll. I don't believe I'd be given that advice now — nor would I accept it. Things have changed enormously in this last year. In digital publishing the author stands to receive a far greater share of profits, but is also expected to take a more active role in promotion of their work, even if (speaking now as an empathetic writer) some find that uncomfortable.


HH: Can you tell us a little about how you met some of your authors, they seem to come from all over the world?

PT: At the Can Serrat writers' residency near Barcelona in 2005, I met Dorothee Kocks of Utah, who was writing a gorgeous historical novel called The Glass Harmonica. We were keen walking companions and it was only years later that I offered to read and then (galvanized by her story) to publish her work as Rosa Mira Books' first offering.

I met five of the seven international writers represented in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories at the Iowa International Writers' Programme in 2007: Alex Epstein dubbed the 'Borges of Israel'; Salman Masalha, an Arab Israeli who writes salient political essays, poems and fiction; Lawrence Pun, a fiction and film writer from Hong Kong; smart and prolific Chris Chrissopoulos of Athens; Sarge Lacuesta, journalist and fiction writer from Manila; Elena Bossi, academic, critic, playwright and novelist from Argentina — all writers with kudos in their own countries and abroad.

Closer to home, though, via this collection, I've met several impressive, new (to me) authors here in NZ and I look forward to following their work.


HH: Did you have any translation dramas?

PT: Most of the stories had already been translated into English; with a few of them I made tweaks to the idiom. In Chris's story the two correspondents employ English as their second language — Chris wanted that to be evident, and yet clarity of intent was called for so, when in doubt, we smoothed out the English. The only story I slogged over (but happily) was Elena's which came to me in Spanish. A friend's daughter and student of Spanish, Georgia Birnie, helped me rough out a translation with the aid of the dictionary, then I checked with Elena (whose English beats the socks off my Spanish) and did my best to bring out the full glow of her story. At one stage I called on my FaceBook friends, knowing one to be a multi-language translator. So, alas, no dramas to report, just pleasure in having worked with so many consummate professionals who also trusted me. 


HH: How do you make time for your own creative work?

PT: Unfortunately that was the first thing to fall away in 2010 when I did so much fretful pioneering into ebook publishing. This year I've seen time gaps open up but have been uncertain where to put my energy. I usually have some paying job underway, as well. The plan is, once I've got the gist of everything, to work on RMB a certain number of days a week, and on my own work the others.


HH: Has editing and publishing given you a different perspective on your own creative process?

PT: I've been editing and appraising manuscripts for some years now and over that time have found it enormously helpful regarding the nuts and bolts of my own writing. You're always looking for what works, what doesn't, and why. It's also deepened my appreciation for the editors of my own work — the objective eye is invaluable.


HH: I noticed on your blog that you create fun little drawings as well. How do other creative outlets influence your writing?

PT: I think it was one of those Fridays when the Twitter stream was in full flood; I was face-booking, blogging, editing, revising, reading, reading, reading and suddenly, aaaargh! I had to do something else. I don't know if it's some kind of regression; decades ago I’d make cards or notes for friends using these naïve drawings; now they offer a kind of playful escape. Because I have no great talent for drawing, I find it peculiarly freeing. You don’t invest ego in a wonky cartoon.


HH: What's your current writing project?

PT: In fact the drawings have brought me back to a long non-fiction piece I've been writing on and off for years. I think inserting some drawings might rekindle my active interest in it. Also, Elena Bossi and I have co-written a bilingual novel, necessitating my trip to Argentina in 2009, and helping us keep our friendship alive. I've just had an assessment done of the English version, hoping it'll help us jostle the novel's component parts more comfortably into place. That's given us plenty to think about and even more to do in the next few months.


HH: What are you reading at the moment?

PT: Slightly Peculiar Love Stories!



Penelope's blog, with the lovely drawings, and musings.

The Rosa Mira blog.

Rosa Mira Books on Facebook and Twitter.


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Quick Ten with David Vann

Tuesday, 31st May, 2011

David Vann 

David Vann is the author of Legend of a Suicide, winner of France's Prix Médicis for best foreign book and a New Yorker Book Club pick; the bestselling memoir A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea; Last Day On Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter, Steve Kazmierczak, winner of the AWP Nonfiction Prize and most recently Caribou Island. A recipient of Wallace Stegner and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, with an MFA from Cornell, he's a professor now at the University of San Francisco and writes for magazines such as Esquire, Outside, Men's Journal, and the Sunday Times. David spends some of his time in New Zealand and has just finished teaching a class at the IIML.

David is interviewed by award winning author Pip Adam about being in between books, teaching in Wellington and what to tell critics who say your writing is too depressing.


PA: You’ve often talked about the ten years it took to get Legend of a Suicide published. What kept you writing during that time? What made you send it out for that last competition, the one it won?

DV: Yeah, I didn’t keep writing during that time, I was a big baby and didn’t write for five and half years after I finished it. It was like pouting sort of and I guess I felt like, if they didn’t want the book then I’d show the world and I wouldn’t write a thing for five and a half years – so the world suffered mightily during that time [LAUGHS].

The other reason though that I didn’t write for the five and a half years was that since I couldn’t get it published I couldn’t get a teaching job so I went to sea and became a captain. I thought that was going to free up a lot of time for writing, I’d just be running charters sometimes and be free at other times, turned out I was always fixing the boat or working on it. I got a little bush-wacked by the job so I didn’t write.

The third reason I didn’t write was, I’d written the first fifty pages of Caribou Island but just couldn’t see where to go with that. I couldn’t see how to write a novel, so it was twelve years until I worked on that again.

So the first part of the break was the twelve years I didn’t do anything for writing and then when I started writing I switched to non-fiction and wrote about all the sailing disasters I’d had and was trying to remember how to write and I wasn’t sure I would ever write fiction again, actually.

I finally sent Legend of a Suicide to the competition because I realised no agent was ever going to send it out. I’d had a series of three agents and the last one was Binky Urban, Amanda Urban, whose one of the top two agents in the English language and she wasn’t going to send it. She liked it, but she wanted to just send the non-fiction and I realised that if she wasn’t going to send it then no one was ever going to send it, so I just sent it to a competition and just got lucky. There’s a lot of luck in a writer’s life [LAUGHS].


PA: So you believed in it enough to send it to the competition?

DV: Yeah, I always believed in it. I always felt like it was my best work and in fact when I had my memoir published A Mile Down after it was published I tried to offer Legend of a Suicide to my editor, and I said, I promise this is my best work, Legend of a Suicide is the best book I’ll ever write and I know it’s a little weird for trying to sell but please, I’ll give it to you for free and I’ll pay $10 000 toward your printing and advertising and publicity tour, all that stuff, I’ll give you $10,000 and you can have it for free – and he wouldn’t even look at it, cause it was a story collection. So I got to learn how much people hate story collections, like I got to see it in lots of detail exactly how much they all really hate them. So that’s why I end up saying that sometimes in class cause I really experienced that, I love story collections and in fact they do really well and you can build a good literary career with story collections but there are a lot of agents and editors who think you can’t. They’ve like ignored the facts enough to where they think it’s not possible.


PA: Can you talk a little bit about the structure of Legend of Suicide? The idea that it’s a ‘legend’ in the way that Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women is a legend.

DV: I couldn’t figure out how to write this story about my dad, and worked on the material for ten years, because everyone in the family had a different version of who he was, what the suicide meant, and what had happened even. So the idea of a collection of pieces, stories that were linked but would contradict each other, would have a debate actually fit what was true of my own experience in my family that our stories didn’t line up, didn’t match up, there was a debate in content.

And because I was working over ten years there was also a debate in style. I was influenced by different writers during the ten years and I was learning different things about writing.

I knew about short pieces and a debate in style and content from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and that was a form I’d liked for a long time. I’d considered him my favourite author but then when I read his Legend of Good Women I could see this other structure. You can have this series of portraits as a way to structure a longer work that’s from the hagiographic tradition of writing about Saints lives. So the word ‘legend’ in Legend of a Suicide actually means a ‘legendary’ which is a literary form of a series of portraits. So the title means a series of portraits of a suicide. So, that seemed to fit in all ways, it seemed to fit the stylistic differences in the stories, it seemed to answer to the repetitive nature of having these stories continually talk about the same issue and also the problem of them not linking up like a novel would.

Basically what I’d written was an enormous mess and it had big problems but that structure excuses or fixes those problems and matches what my real experience was, so there’s a kind of truth to it but it was also, I guess, a kind of relief for me to see there was actually a structure that could match that.

And so, once I understood that, as I continued on with the other pieces I was looking at them more in terms of how they might fit into that structure. The last story for instance, The Higher Blue, I wrote right toward the end. I was aware that it was the same as the first story, Ichthyology – it had the same dramatic structure but was written as a fabulism, a completely different mode, so it wouldn’t necessary be recognisable as the same story but you might feel like it has the same dramatic arc of the father and his eventual fall. So yeah, that’s how it came about, it came about just from reading Chaucer and from my family experience and from what the writing experience was across the ten years.


PA: When I read Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island I had that fantastic feeling where I would read something and it was like finding out something about myself that I already knew but hadn’t had words for. It seems amazing that when we write from intensely personal experience it can be understood and deeply felt by other people. You talk in a class about not ‘faking it’ do you think not ‘faking it’ has something to do with this?

DV: Yeah, I think that, what amazes me about fiction, what I’ve said about it before in interviews, I feel like fiction is real that, like I said in the Wall Street Journal review, you can’t fake it in fiction, that it’s actually doing something.

So, in the case of someone like me, who’s writing about family material, it takes those ugly stories from our real lives and it transforms those in some ways and it makes them become something else that is whole and has a life to it and is essentially redeemed versus the original story.

That’s the part I think can’t be an idea and can’t be planned and can’t be faked. There actually has to be a transformation that takes place. If it does take place then there is something genuinely human about that, that comes out of our unconscious and that our unconsciousness’s are not really that dis-similar. So, even if the storyline, the plot, the place, those thing are different than what our experience is there’s something recognisable about human suffering , sense of self, and basic relationships that’s identifiable and I do think, I’ve come to think, that fiction is best when it focuses on primary relationships like for instance: mother, son, or two sisters, or a marriage, you know those basic relationships and if it’s about something that’s essentially disturbing, the crossing of some taboo, something that activates the unconscious for all the feelings that we have about that and all of our fears about it.

If you’re hooked into any kind of story that involves those things: primary relationships and taboo, it’ll probably speak to just about anyone else because we’re all linked at that level. The part where you can’t fake it is that the unconscious has to actually shape that story into some kind of pattern and transform it and that’s the part you can’t plan or see coming and that a reader knows if that’s happened or not.


PA: I hear there was quite a lot of talk at your Auckland Writers and Readers Week panel about your writing practice that results in a first draft that doesn’t differ hugely from the final published work – can you talk a bit about that?

DV: I write two pages a day, work for a couple of hours, and it’s every day for about five and a half months to get a first draft and when I finish that first draft that’s pretty much the same as what gets published and that’s because each day I’ve read through twenty or thirty pages leading up to the point where I’m going to add the new two pages and every two weeks I read the whole thing.

So really I’ve been through it a bunch of times by the time I get to the end and it’s all supposed to feel cohesive, like it was written in one day.

The patterns that have developed unconsciously in the work are things that I can’t really tamper with. I can’t change the basic living structure of that and I also can’t re-enter the story – the fiction is an event it’s something that happens in the making of it and when it’s done, it’s done. It gets this hard shell on it where I can’t go back into it and I feel like it just is what it is that I could change it and make it something else but that’s not necessarily better it’s just something else, and what’s going to happen is if I go back in and break into it and try to revise more is I’m going to be breaking up the strength of ties and the unconscious cohesions within the text. So it might be more consciously cohesive in some ways but it’s going to break essential parts of it that are giving it life early on.

But I think the other part of writing like that is that sometimes you just throw away the whole book which I have done before, like the whole thing just doesn’t work, doesn’t come alive. Cause I’ve actually never had the experience of revising something a lot and having it work out – never, not even with a short story, I mean even with the small form, I’ve never revised a short story a whole bunch and have that be a good story, I’ve had to throw out the whole lot of them.


PA: You’re also a musician, how do you think you ended up with writing as your primary career rather than music?

DV: It might have been just because I could do the writing I wasn’t really good enough in music and it was partly an academic choice. I thought about going into ethnomusicology but ended up deciding to go into English and writing I’d wanted to do all my life, music wasn’t as clearly or as strongly a pull, and I wasn’t … partly I blame my mother, she had me learn trombone, and it may not be her fault at all, it could be that I chose the trombone – that’s probably what happened, it’s probably not my mother’s fault at all, along with most of the other stuff I want to blame on her, it’s probably not my mother’s fault – but why didn’t she say something? Fucking trombone, where’s that going to go later in life, you know? [LAUGHS] I spent eight years on trombone so I guess I should say I blame trombone, if I started with congas playing for funk bands you know, maybe, I would have done some more of that, cause that was really fun, but yeah, music was really fun and something that was wonderful and I wanted to do and I still like to do, but I haven't done much for a while, but writing was something I did all my life and was always, I think, clearly what I most wanted to do and I always would have just done it if it hadn’t been for money. I only did other things cause I needed money.

But yeah, a lot of writers that I know in the US either are painters or musicians like a lot of writers have a second thing which we’re rarely very good at but you know it’s more immediately satisfying. Music is far more immediately satisfying than writing in terms of any interaction with an audience but there is something about the writing, that when landscape shifts and becomes crazy and does stuff that is really satisfying on that day when it happens, like, it’s really a thrill and I miss it, I get grumpy if I’m not writing cause I don’t have that experience.


PA: I’ve been interested talking to you about where you are right now – waiting for re-writes on a finished novel and not yet started a new novel. What’s that like?

DV: That’s the most anxious time for me, I feel worthless, I feel like I’m never going to do anything again. I have no idea what the next thing’s going to be. I really doubt the last thing was any good. It’s just a time of doubt. I watch a lots of movies which is nice, I read, I have some free time which is very strange for me I don’t really know what to do with free time and I don’t feel engaged I feel like my life is on hold and I don’t really like it.

I mean I should like it, because sometimes the writing feels tough and I feel like I need a break and I’m kind of relieved to finish something especially to have the publisher say yes, and they’re going to publish it, like that’s wonderful. So in the last few weeks I had the publisher say yes, with a two book deal where they bought the novel I finished and they want the next one and that’s wonderful so I was elated I mean that was fantastic but I’m also a little bored and anxious and wonder if my writing’s just crap and if I’ll ever write anything again. So it’s bizarre, I think writers suck, like in some kind of basic human way we kind of like – I’ve missed the boat [LAUGHS]. You know. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy it, and take a break for six months – I could, I’m so far ahead I have a non-fiction book coming out in October and a novel that’ll come out a year from now, like, I could take a break for a while but I can’t do it. I don’t want to. I want to see if I can do it, see if I can write the next one.

PA: There’s no trick to starting the next one is there? Do you just sit down and start writing.


DV: Usually reading a whole bunch of stuff – like, envy is a good engine for a whole lot of authors. I think a lot of authors write out of envy and rage also, That fucker, that’s not as good as what I could do! [LAUGHS] Especially if they’ve gone to school and they’ve got friends who have their books published and do well there’s a lot of rage there. I went to grad school with someone who got a Pulitzer Prize, imagine the incentive that gave to the rest of us.


PA: Lucy Wilkins asked via Twitter: Will David Vann’s characters ever suffer in warmer weather?

The next novel that will come out a year from now called, Dirt takes place at the end of July early August in the central valley of California, right in the heat of summer in the very hottest time and it’s just – people are constantly being baked, it’s this hellish landscape so yeah, it’s a very hot novel.

In Dirt even the dirt has been turned white, it’s not even brown it’s so dry and hot it’s been turned white.


PA: Helen Heath asked me to ask you what you say when critics say Legend of a Suicide is too depressing?

[LAUGHS] Um, I pretty much, in the US I get pretty impatient with that question and I tell them to, Wake the fuck up. For 2500 years most of the literature in Western culture has been tragedy. Like I think it’s mostly the US where I get critics saying that, in other countries I don’t get it nearly as often and really I think it’s just unbelievable that people say that, it shows an utter lack of knowledge of any of our literary history. So it shows that someone’s had zero education is really what it shows, like you can’t knock a writer for a book being depressing I mean that’s ridiculous, you know.

And I think writers should all fight back on that one. Every time someone says that, we should all tell them to go to hell that they’re an idiot, because really we need to educate the public to the fact that that’s mostly what our literary tradition is and we should not have to apologise for it like I think writers should never have to apologise. We shouldn’t apologise for writing about our families, we shouldn’t apologise for writing tragedy, we shouldn’t apologise for having obsessions or writing about the same material a couple times. Like all those things, why apologise? It’s part of what writing actually does and is, writing transforms things and it redeems things and so those tend to be ugly things and that’s why we all write tragedy. So yeah, I guess I respond not very positively, with a bunch of impatience [LAUGHS].


PA: What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished reading Ross Raisin’s new novel Waterline which will be coming out in June or July and I think it’s great. I ended up writing a review of it for the Financial Times in the UK. He’s one of my favourite young writers in the UK. I thought Out Backward was a brilliant novel. I totally loved that and this one has a really impressive vision to it – someone working class from the Glasgow ship yards and how a life can fail, basically how the momentum can take over and how far you can sink and it’s great so I recommend it to everyone.


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Quick Ten with Helen Heath

Monday, 24th January, 2011




I've finally got around to doing a video post. I've been thinking about how many of you may have read my words but we've never met in real life so I thought I'd let you laugh at my accent and inflict some of the questions I've asked other interviewees on myself!

Books mentioned:


My Mother Was a Computer

Made in America 

6 Impossible Things before breakfast 


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Quick Ten with Keri Smith

Monday, 22nd November, 2010


Keri Smith is a much loved writer / illustrator turned guerilla artist. I'm thrilled she agreed to be interviewed, I love her work.

She is the author of many bestselling books about creativity including the bestselling Wreck this Journal (2007, Perigee), How to be an Explorer of the World –the Portable Life/Art Museum (2008, Perigee), The Guerilla Art Kit (2007, Princeton Architectural Press), Living Out Loud – Activities to Fuel a Creative Life (2003, Chronicle Books) and Tear up this Book! :The Sticker, Stencil, Stationery, Games, Crafts, Doodle, And Journal Book For Girls!  (2005, American Girl). Her newest book is Mess: A Manual of Accidents and Mistakes (2010, Penguin Books). I've got several of her books, they are really clever and lots of fun!

Keri spends her days playing with her husband and son, reading, cooking and writing books. She teaches part time at Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver B.C.

Keri answers questions about community, politics in art and the contagiousness of delight. She has a great Flickr stream and you can connect with her on Facebook.

Some of these questions were donated by the fabulous Helen Lehndorf.


HH: You've created a real community around you. How important is mentoring to you?

KS: While I have not done much of the one-on-one mentoring, I am currently teaching a class in illustration which is a form of mentoring to me. I believe that it is important to give back once you reach a certain point in your career, when you've figured out what is important to you and what you think the world needs to know. Or another tactic is if you were only able to communicate three things to others, what would they be? That's one way to figure out what is important for you to share with the world. I've been thinking about it a lot during this teaching process, it's a fascinating journey.



HH: How do you know when to stop giving? Do you feel drained or invigorated by giving? Where's the cut off point?

KS: This is a good question and the answer is probably very personal. I think each of us has to learn where our own boundaries lie, often the hard way. You will know you are giving too much because you will feel drained of energy. I am in a bit of a challenging place with it in the last year as I am now receiving more requests than I can handle (a good thing, yes), but it's hard when you want to try and help everyone who writes and can't. My cutoff point has changed lately as I feel that I need to reserve as much energy as possible for my books and for my family.



HH: "Everyone is an artist" - Joseph Beuys. What would you say to critics of this quote?

KS: That depends on the critic. Some of the critics are purists who want to believe in art as something that only a talented few can partake in. And most others are people who have been told, usually at a young age, that they were not creative (and never would be). These people carry this label around with them and feel unable to break free of it. It is my opinion that these perceptions can be changed, but it takes a bit of work.

I might also add that the Joseph Beuys quote was set in a specific time period (60's & 70's), meaning it Beuys was responding to the social and political climate of the time, (one in which artists were still striving to move out of a traditional place.) Ironically I feel we are still working to do this fourty years later.



HH: How important are politics to your creativity?

KS: Very. and more so the older I get. I see it as my job to question things out in the world, especially things that I feel are unfair, disturbing, and inhumane. I also feel it is the artist's role to hold a mirror up to the world in an attempt to let us see what is really going on. While my own work is not overtly political, I see myself as an activist who is dedicated to helping people to question things around them and hopefully see them in a different light. I am particularly interested in tuning people into the natural world, because you can't care about that which you don't even notice. It is my hope that just by starting to tune into the little things we will be able to see how everything is connected, and therefore much less likely to cause harm. I like to think I can trick people into caring. I know on the surface you could say that my books are slightly gimmicky, but I assure you there is a LOT more in there if you take the time to look and really experience them.



HH: The micro/macro seem to be quite a focus for you. Do you think the micro reflects / builds the macro, like fractals?

KS: My work deals mainly with looking at things from different perspectives. I believe that playing with scale is one way to shift our perception about something. It can also be quite enjoyable and a bit absurdist. I also quite enjoy things that delve into the realm of absurd. It's important not to take life too seriously.

I am not sure about your question as it delves into more of the scientific side of things (which I love to explore), while I exist mostly on the imaginary side. I would like to investigate it further.



HH: How has your online life grown / changed? Have you ever struggled with your increasing 'fame'?

KS: This is a tough question, especially lately. I hesitate to write much as I feel like I could fill pages with my thoughts on the online world. I believe the internet has really fueled my career and in part made it what it is today. I love the possibilities that exist with a connected world, and get excited about shaping the new technology in some way. When I started there were not many blogs out in the world, the medium was very new and people were still deciding how to develop it, what form would it eventually take? I have always felt it important to write from the heart and share my ideas, thoughts and experiences with the world. I still do this, but I find myself being a little (a lot) more protective of my personal life as my 'popularity' increased, especially since having a child two years ago. I am very adamant about not putting m son's life online, I feel strongly that it should be his own decision when he is old enough whether he wants aspects of his life to be public or not (it is not for me to share). I think our current culture is not doing enough thinking and questioning about the repercussions of making our lives public online, there will be many things that we can not anticipate. I often wonder what it would feel like to turn 15 and realize that your whole life had been shared and viewed online by millions of people without anyone asking you if that was what you wanted. Wouldn't you feel violated? Or would it just be something you accepted because everyone else was doing it too? What if you were an extremely private person?



HH: How do you hold fast to your core values through everything that comes with increased exposure and attention?

KS: Funny, I just wrote a little piece about that.  I find myself much more centered with my core values these days (having a child helps with this).



HH: I really love your call to "Act Now". What roles do you think "The Muse" and procrastination play in creativity?

KS: I constantly espouse the values and necessity of procrastination play. Most of my best ideas come when I am supposed to be working on something else. Never question your need to avoid work. I don't really think too much about "the muse" in the traditional sense. I'm more of the "make time" mentality, and the ideas will appear (at some point).



HH: Do you think that delight and playfulness is contagious?

KS: Yes.


Wait. Here, I'll prove it to you.

I became totally excited today after reading a story about Peter Buchannan-Smith, a big designer who was going through a hellish life crisis (his business was failing, his wife was leaving him, he had to sell his beloved house). During this time he took a canoeing trip to Algonquin Park a place he had spent a lot of time as a child. While there he did a lot of thinking about when he felt the happiest in his life and realized that the camping trips where a microcosm of everything that was great and beautiful (I'm paraphrasing all of this). He decided to start a company that was based on these feelings, so he began selling the best made ax he could find, and told his stories about what the ax represented for him. The axes are selling like crazy now. I think because we all have similar stories of simple things that delighted us as children. And we are all dying to get in touch with those things we feel we are disconnected from now. Mainly, things that have nothing to do with technology, money and consumerism.

If that doesn't convince you watch a small child playing with a toy he/she loves.



HH: What are you reading at the moment?

KS: I am reading "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" an illustrated novel about a 12 year old genius who makes "maps" of his everyday life. It's very charming.



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Quick Ten with Michael Nobbs

Monday, 25th October, 2010

Michael Nobbs

Michael Nobbs is an artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order) who has been blogging since 2004,  he lives on the side of hill near the west coast of Wales and likes to keep things simple. Michael answers questions about maintaining a sustainable level of creativity. I recently read his new book Sustainable Creativity, which I think is excellent and totally recommend. If you are super quick you can buy it at a very reasonable rate (US$9) until Sunday October 31st, after which point it will go up in price. 

Buy Now


Michael writes and publishes The Beany, an illustrated journal of his life. He talks about drawing and how to get the Important Work done despite having limited energy. Michael was diagnosed with ME/CFS in the late 1990s and over the last decade has learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy. 

You can follow Michael on Twitter.

Some of these questions were donated by the fabulous Helen Lehndorf.


HL: How do you work through your creative low patches?

MN: I don't always work through them, because creative low patches often correspond with physical low patches so have to get dealt with with lots of TLC (and tea drinking). That said, if I can, I try to do a little (sometimes very little) bit of creative work most days.


HL: Have you ever felt like chucking your blog in? If so, how did you resist the urge?

MN: I've never really felt like giving up on my blog, though it has at times been almost in hibernation (a bit like me). For the two years I studied for my MA my blog as very quiet, and at times when my health has been particularly poor posts have been quite sporadic.

Over the six or so years I've been writing it it has been a huge help in shaping me as an artist and a writer. I'm so grateful that I live when I do, with all the Internet has to offer.


HL: What is the weirdest fan/admirer interaction you've had?

MN: Nothing weird so far. I live in hope...


HL: What is the best thing that's happened to you through your online life?

MN: Learning to think of myself as an artist, and then as an artist who makes his living from his work.


HL: How much time do you spend on your art everyday?

MN: Ten minutes some days, more when I can.


HH: I think your suggestion of bites sized chunks of work is great for everyone, especially procrastinators like me, not just people with low energy. Have you got any other tips to trick our procrastinating / tired selves into productivity?

MN: Get a timer! Just setting it for twenty minutes (or even ten on a bad day) every day and working on something until it rings means you can slowly but surely build up a body of work.


HH: Do you think procrastination can have it's uses? I read this article recently...

MN: Good article. I think it is always important to be kind to ourselves, especially if we are ill and limited in energy, but even if we are healthy.

It is very easy to decide we are lazy (and from my experience it is often the people that push themselves the hardest that give themselves the worst time about being "lazy"). I spent years berating myself for not doing more, when in actual fact I was pushing myself far too hard and just making myself ill. Better to be gentle with ourselves, recognise we have limits and work within in them. That said, if you really want to do something, don't be put off by how overwhelming it seems, just think of the first little step you can take to get started, and then the next and then the next...


HH: Joseph Beuys said "Everyone is an artist". What would you say to critics of this quote?

MN: Everyone is welcome to their opinion.

HH: I would add that perhaps we should not see creativity as the special realm of "artists", but that everyone should apply creative thinking in their own area of specialisation - whatever that may be.


HH: What are the benefits of cataloguing / drawing everyday things?

MN: They are handy. When I was at my illest, the things in front of me were the only things I could draw. The habit stuck.


HH: What are you reading at the moment?

MN: A Year of Questions by Fiona Robyn


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Quick Ten with Bill Manhire

Tuesday, 21st September, 2010

The third installment in the Quick Ten Interview series.

Bill Mnahire

Bill Manhire

Arguably New Zealand's best loved poet. Bill answers questions about musicality, collaboration, lightning strikes and the muse.

Bill Manhire hardly requires any introduction but you can read his NZ Book Council profile here. Manhire’s published books include a Collected Poems (2001) and Lifted (2006), and many anthologies. His most recent book is The Victims of Lightning (2010) from Victoria University Press. He was the inaugural Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1996–97, received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate award in 2005, and in 2007 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. He directs the creative writing programme (IIML) at Victoria University of Wellington.

You can follow the IIML on Twitter.

Today - Thursday September 23rd, Wellingtonians can listen to Manhire's lyrics set to Jazz music by Norman Meehan at Te Papa.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.



HH: What does working with other disciplines like jazz music bring to your creative process?

BM: It makes me less predictable to myself, I guess. It shuffles my head around. There’s also the odd satisfaction of seeing my poems translated by an expert, but for once I have a reasonably good grasp of the target language.


HH: What comes first for you - words or music (or should I say the musicality of the poem)?

BM: I think I almost always start in musical territory – with a cadence, or a musical phrase – and then add more phrases, until there’s something there that has meaning, that manages to be more than noise. Then I try to follow the meaning and the music at the same time. I have to admit that I would always sacrifice meaning for a fine musical effect.

If I could get away with it, I would probably call every one of my poems “Song”. For me, the music you hear in your head off the page is more amazing than anything that happens in performance – the rhythms of the lines play against the rhythms of the sentences, and that’s something you simply can't get in prose.


HH: What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other artists? 

BM: Well, I guess – in an entirely pleasurable way – I get pushed out of my comfort zone. See above. Suddenly other possibilities turn up in the world, and I can follow them or adjust them or somehow use them for my own purposes. I guess there needs to be some temperamental affinity in the first place, but often collaboration feels like the wrong word. Illustration isn’t right, either. With Ralph Hotere, for example, I’ve sometimes put things in front of him – even things I’ve done specifically for him, like the PINE sequence – and watched in astonishment as he made something far more remarkable than what he started with.

Sometimes there's more equivalence, if that’s the word – as with the Plunket birthday piece I wrote with Eve de Castro a couple of years ago. We were writing for the NZSO and children’s choir, and we agreed to use some found text (from Plunket books) and to include work associated with small children (a round, a lullaby) plus the names of Plunket nurses – and then to end where we'd begun, with a child being born. That’s the big effect of babies entering the world: they make life circular again.


HH: How do you get writing done - what is your creative process?

BM: I don’t know any longer! I used to need several days of empty-headedness, an expanse of time in which to rid my head of all the trash that’s usually there, so that other stuff could find its way in. But I haven’t had space in my life for those empty days for a long time. I'm surprised to find I like commissions; or arbitrary challenges – again because they push me into territory where I surprise myself.

In the end for me it's all magical/alchemical. You toss a bunch of sounds and meanings into the pot, and see what happens. Sometimes it's just a question of bringing together words and phrases that have never coincided before: e.g. "nest of weapons" / "lyrical foliage". Much of the time the result will be inert; occasionally you get some sort of precious metal that looks nice but has no apparent use; and very, very rarely you get some weird substance that you feel you could build a whole new city from.


HH: What advice would you give budding writers about craft and revision? How much time do you spend on it?

BM: Well, there’s nothing abstract about it – you pick up craft by actively writing, and by reading. It’s not a matter of being able to define dactyls or Petrarchan sonnets.

As for revision, it really is the biggest thing. You want any poem you write to seem effortless and inevitable – even in its roughnesses. But poems tend not to come fully formed. The best ones make you feel they do, mainly because of all the invisible revising work that's gone on somewhere off-stage. It's like The Wizard of Oz – big effects throughout the land, but the poet is just a little figure behind the curtain.


HH: The anxiety of influence - your poem "On Originality" muses on this - who were your poetry idols when you were younger?

BM: I loved early Robert Creeley, and Spanish poets in translation – the poems in The Elaboration are essentially Creeley crossed with Lorca. But mostly I tended to like poets who produced work that looked tidy and symmetrical on the page – yet inside the apparent tidiness all sorts of imaginative and emotional leaps were taking place. R.A. K Mason would be the local example - all those manic, teenage contortions. And I was full of my own teenage contortions when I first read him.

Plus big chunks of Donne and Herbert; Browning. But also Carl Sandburg, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson. I eventually developed weirder and wiser pleasures, too: John Crowe Ransom, the clunkier bits of Wordsworth and Hardy. I came across a great phrase in a Wordsworth poem the other day: “beyond participation”. The poem is “The Affliction of Margaret”, and I suppose it describes what bereavement feels like. "Beyond participation" points to the dead, who can no longer participate in life, and so it might indicate Margaret's son, dead seven years. But she uses the phrase of herself. It's how she feels. Amazing.

I also read a lot of the generation of American poets who began writing in the late 50s and 60s. I gave a talk about this once – it’s reprinted in Doubtful Sounds, and is also posted at the NZEPC.


HH: In an interview with Mark Broatch - Sunday Star Times it says “The Victims of Lightning takes its title from poet Randall Jarrell's line that good poets get struck by lightning five or six times in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms; a dozen or more and the poet is great. Manhire says every poet is capable of writing work beyond themselves. "I suppose what I'm saying to [students] is that you can construct the atmospheric conditions for lightning to strike."

Can you clarify? You don’t mean that poets need to wait for the muse do you? How do you make it easier for lightning to strike?

BM: One of the things I'm thinking of is workshop exercises. You can use various kinds of constraint to generate accidents that you can then consciously turn into something that is entirely yours – yet you would never have found your way to it without the initial trigger.

So you play with chance, but you also take responsibility. I like the story Charles Simic tells about Octavio Paz going to visit André Breton after the second world war:

He was admitted and told to wait because the poet was engaged. Indeed, from the living room where he was seated, he could see Breton writing furiously in his study. After a while he came out, and they greeted each other and set out to have lunch in a nearby restaurant.

“What were you working on, maitre?” Paz inquired as they were strolling to their destination.

“I was doing some automatic writing,” Breton replied.

“But,” Paz exclaimed in astonishment, “I saw you erase repeatedly!”

[Ah, said Breton] – “It wasn’t automatic enough.”

Constraint: producing accident, and then volition – you always have to be able to seize the moment, and yet be willing to erase repeatedly. Maybe I’ve just started answering question 5 . . .


HH: Can you tell us a bit about “Buddhist Rain”?

BM: Well it started with Norman Meehan setting some of my poems, and me feeling interested in what he’d done and then suggesting to him that I try writing texts specifically for him to put to music – with him having as much freedom to rework or abandon words as he wanted. In the end the wildest thing he did was to add an extra “la” to the “la la la la la la la” chorus of “Across the Water”. It was a very good "la", though! The project has become bigger than the CD that’s about to be issued by Rattle I'd say there are another dozen songs waiting in the wings.

At one point I sent Norman a list of possible titles, and asked if he and Hannah Griffin would like to choose the ones that interested them, and I would try to write the lyrics. So that’s where several of the texts published in The Victims of Lightning – “Pacific Raft”, “Buddhist Rain”, “Making Baby Float” – came from. There were also some that Norman liked but I never quite got round to, for example “The Third Piano”.


HH: I'm curious about the PhD programme, is it working out how you imagined? What did you imagine? What does the multi-disciplinary approach bring to the projects?

BM: Actually, we're not doing anything especially original. Most creative writing PhD programmes in Australia and the UK offer something similar to our mix of creative and "scholarly" elements. Some of the mixing of creative and critical, the complementarities, are wonderfully interesting and provocative. You can see the sort of projects that are underway on the IIML's website Some brilliant work is happening. 

I suspect the process is hard for some people: you get articulate in one language (the novel you're writing, say), and then you have to abandon it and try to speak convincingly in another language altogether. We hope that some of the writers may be able to produce hybrid projects, where you can't separate the creative and critical components.

There are bound to be some bumpy moments, some of them of the university's making. I don’t think rule-making academics understand that excellence takes many different forms. A lot of PhD regulations and protocols seem to be based on an anxious Social Sciences need to mimic the evidence-based objectivity principles that inform the hard sciences. So there's constant talk of theory and methodology, and lots of noise about Literature Reviews. These academic requirements may not be terribly helpful when you're embarking on a novel or just emptying your head so that unexpected words and thoughts can slide in. I still think E.M. Forster got it right: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”  Or here’s Margaret Atwood in a recent interview – "Q: What can we expect next from you? A – I never know. It's unknown to me."



HH: What are you reading at the moment?

BM: I've been reading a couple of newish – to me – American poets:

Mary Ruefle and Ben Lerner. They both do well what many of their contemporaries do by rote. Also, the English poet Alice Oswald, the Irish poet John McAuliffe, the Shetland poet Jen Hadfield.



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Quick Ten with Emily Perkins

Wednesday, 25th August, 2010

The second installment in the Quick Ten Interview series.



Emily Perkins

Photo credit Rebecca Swan / Doublescoop


A rare being - internationally successful, award winning writer and presenter of The Good Word - Emily Perkins answers questions about what happens when acting and writing converge, Books vs Paintings and acting in the movie of the Novel About My Wife.

You can follow Emily on Twitter.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.

The first question is from Ashleigh Young who has a curly one for you:

So many people loved "Not her real name" and some writers tried to emulate it. Then you went off and did a completely different thing. Do you think you'll ever write a collection of short stories again? Also, have you ever met Patrick Evans and if so, were things civil between you?

EP: Ha – I haven’t met him. I’m sure he’s a personable guy. He’s been photographed wearing Mickey Mouse ears, which is always a good sign. Looking forward to reading his book.

For sure I’ll keep writing short stories and hopefully publish another collection. One of the books I’ve been working on is a sort of story-novel hybrid. My dream is to sustain the precision and intensity of stories through a longer work.


HH: I'm really interested in how having a background in more than one creative discipline effects your work as a writer. Also, having a husband who is a visual artist must have some impact surely? What happens when acting, painting and writing converge?

EP: Hm, I think the main influence from drama is probably in the imaginative act, the focus you bring to visualizing a scene or an interior moment. I say visualizing but really you’re trying to engage all the senses. Similar to acting but in writing you’re on your own and you can redraft.

I’ve learned a lot from artists over the years about just getting on with it – the importance of routine, daily application to the work.

At the moment I’m doing a little collaboration that involves me drawing, which is hilarious and insanely good fun. Awesome to try something new and have the freedom of engaging a different part of the brain and not caring if it looks completely amateur. Maybe that’s the thing with different disciplines: one might be your life’s work but it’s enriching and liberating to be a rank amateur in others. A few years ago I thought Am Dram would be a good form of make-your-own fun but now wonder if I’d have the guts. I might skip straight to the waitressing..


HH: You mentioned in an interview a couple of years ago that:

“I'm really interested in how we construct ourselves, the building up of identity and how much we live as a known quantity and how much we're mysteries to ourselves and how much we invent ourselves and live in other people.”

How different is creating a character for stage or screen to creating a character in a novel?

EP: So far, in my writing, it happens differently every time. In one of my current projects the characters emerged clearly after the initial draft, which was very much about sensory experience. I’ve fitted the characters to the story world rather than the other way round. In the other project, there are two female characters and one man who are leading it. They’ve been clearly defined from the start.

It’s a very long time since I played a character on stage. Of course someone else has given you the words. The last thing I did was probably one of my better efforts because I was really lost about acting and on the verge of giving up, so didn’t try too hard, and the play was a Mamet so the language was all you really needed.


HH: You're probably sick of talking about distance, location and exile as themes in your work by now. Do you think these themes will keep coming up in your work or are you done and dusted?

EP: Well, to return to these two projects, which both have a strong sense of place – one isn’t about those things at all and one has a character who is quite defined by being out of her home country.


HH: In my last interview Elizabeth Knox said she'd like to answer more really writerly questions about story and syntax, rhetoric and imagery. What do you wish people would ask you? Would you like to tell us about your rhetoric and imagery?

EP: I’d like to read Elizabeth’s answers. I wish there were more of these discussions, the kind of symposium where writers can talk to each other and a readerly audience about technique, craft, art, theory, etc, without it being an academic context or the festival event focus on the story/plot of a single book or the author biography. You know, those events are very much about what happens, not how it happens.

Um, so to take the opportunity briefly – the rhetoric seems to develop over the early stages of a draft and that style is intimately connected to the characters and mood. The organising principle. There's that funny thing with writing where each book has its own flavour but perhaps there is some recognizable author voice behind them all. Being on the inside of the writing is like being inside your own self, where you experience yourself as sort of pH neutral and you forget that it might come across as very positively one thing or another, on the outside.


HH: What writing projects have you been working on since Novel about my Wife?

EP: These two novels, for the most part. Some other smaller stuff.


HH: How would you describe your creative process? Do you sit down and slog it out everyday? How does it get squeezed in with teaching, parenthood and The Good Word?

EP: I write five days a week, though not always on the project that needs the most attention. My process could broadly be described as alternating between moss-like accumulation in a fairly relaxed manner, and intense slightly nauseous focus. The children are all in school now. Prep for teaching and The Good Word tends to happen at night, I can’t really write fiction after getting the kids to bed. And we do end up sometimes working on the weekends but that’s much more family time.


HH: Suspend disbelief for a moment... You're asked to play Ann in a movie version of Novel About my Wife – would you take the job?

EP: Oh no. I would be so wrong for the part it’s unimaginable!


HH: Is it Books vs. Paintings in your house when it comes to what takes up space?

EP: It’s Books vs. Everything and the books are winning. I suppose e-readers will change this and maybe one of the unexpected silver linings will be more wall-space for paintings. But right now I love ‘real’ books in shelves and am not ready to give them up.


HH: Who are you reading at the moment?

EP: I’m a bit frustrated with my reading at the moment. For work I have an Albanian novel, Ornela Vorspi’s The Country Where No One Ever Dies, and some writing on anarchism (The Coming Insurrection – speaking of rhetoric, that is written/translated in the most exhilarating style). For fun, dipping in and out of Clarice Lispector’s Cronicas (a Fergus Barrowman tip) and the David Lipsky/David Foster Wallace interviews. But I can’t read certain books I’ve been looking forward to – the Robin Black short stories, the new Maile Meloy, other stuff – because I’ve got a feeling they’ll somehow fuck me up at this stage of writing.

So it is very slow passing through fantasy novels I read as a kid: Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.


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Quick Ten with Elizabeth Knox & Fergus Barrowman

Thursday, 22nd July, 2010

Welcome to my new interview series "Quick Ten". Once a month I'll be talking to some of my favourite people about the creative process.


Elizabeth Knox photo credit Bruce Foster Fergus Barrowman 
Photo Credit Bruce Foster

My first victims - best selling author Elizabeth Knox and publisher Fergus Barrowman are New Zealand's hottest literary couple. They answer questions about what makes great fiction, taking risks, what makes publishers keep reading your manuscript and - most importantly - Zombies vs Vampires.

You can follow Elizabeth and Fergus on Twitter or become a fan of Victoria University Press on Facebook.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.

First up – Elizabeth:

HH: The wrong stuff - are accidents and mistakes good material?

EK: So, accidents – I don’t know that I recognise them anymore. I’m working with the silent partner of my subconscious and nothing feels wholly accidental or deliberate. I do plan, but the planning is mostly a way of tricking myself into proceeding with the story. It’s like 1) Imagine the story. 2) Write the story you haven’t imagined.


HH: If you could transform into any kind of supernatural being for 24 hours what would you be?

EK: I’m thinking this would work like a fairytale wish and you’d lose any ongoing benefit from the experience, so rather than being someone wise, who could come away from the 24 hours with insights, I would be some creature who could experience pure physical pleasure for that period. Something untroubled, with wings.


HH: How many projects do you have on the go at any given time?

EK: I have three things on the go at the moment (though one is illicit). I’m always writing notes up to five possible projects ahead. I have more ideas than time at the moment (and have always had more than I’ve had confidence to get on with some of them!)


HH: How is your personal library organised? Is it organised?

EK: Once in a long while Fergus moves books around from room to room. It is like the fall of empires with maps being redrawn. The poetry and essays stay in my office – they are like power points, I need to plug in frequently.


HH: How do you feel about taking risks?

EK: I just do it. Deciding not to take risks would be even riskier.


HH: Do you ever suffer from fear & anxiety – if so how do you deal with it?

EK: This question caused loud and hysterical laughter in my household where it is understood that I am a racehorse and can often be seen cavorting nervously sideways with my eyes rolling. Is cavorting nervously sideways dealing with it?


HH: What do you say to "Genre Critics" who just want you to write straight forward "literary fiction"

EK: I just say, persistently and gently, to those it’ll help as well as those who don’t and won’t get it, that "literary fiction" is a genre – it is literature that matters most to me, and literature can appear in any genre.


HH: What do you wish people would ask you in interviews?

EK: I’d love to answer more really writerly questions about story and syntax, rhetoric and imagery, asked by some really noticing critic. David Larsen did a very good job in the forthcoming book of interviews Words Chosen Carefully (I really don’t know about that title ...)


HH: Anymore movie deals in the works?

EK: Yes. It could be very exciting if it comes to anything. Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. Twilight producers Temple Hill.


HH: Who are you reading at the moment?

EK: Gawd, I read ‘feeding’ and was counting up teenagers… Um. Reading. In the past two weeks I finished The Vagrants by Yuyin Li, and Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones. On my iphone I read Tim Powers’s Three Days till Never, and listened to an audio book of the brilliant Megan Whelan Turner’s King of Attolia (I wish I’d written those books!). Now I’m starting Jane Smiley’s Private Life. So, for the genre police that’s literary fiction, YA, fantasy, YA, literary fiction. Amen.


Now on to Fergus:

HH: What makes you put down a manuscript?

FB: If it sounds like literature.


HH: What makes you keep reading?

FB: A tingle of pleasure, or the niggling anxiety that it might be better than it appears to be (which hardly ever comes to anything).


HH: What's the most common mistake new writers make?

FB: Thinking they can ask for the reader’s attention; they have to win it.


HH: What advice do you have for how to deal with rejection slips? Should writers get thicker skins?

FB: Try to remember that this rejection means only that this editor rejected this work for this publishing list or periodical at this time.


HH: If you were a font what would you be?

FB: Baskerville Old Face.


HH: How do you feel about being described as a “Gatekeeper”?

FB: Patrick White described Beatrice Davis (longterm Angus & Robertson editor) as “the bottleneck in Australian literature”, which I thought was a great accolade.


HH: Do you think the old style relationship between editors and writers has gone for good and has anything replaced it?

FB: I’m not sure that that “old style relationship” ever existed in any general sense. Editors have always had an uncomfortably two-faced role, advocating for the writer to publisher, imposing the publisher’s demands on the writer. Close and transforming working relationships between writers and editors have always been rare good luck. They will continue to happen, whether the “editor” is on the publisher’s payroll, or is a freelancer, or is hired by the writer, or is the writer’s agent – or is in “the cloud” in some position that we can’t quite foresee. In the end, the editor works for the reader, and is paid by the reader.


HH: Can people learn how to write a prize winning book, or is it natural born talent? In other words -Are writing schools a good thing?

FB: No one can be taught how to write a good book who doesn’t already have it in them, but a good school can help someone find the technique or self-confidence or self-knowledge they need to realise that book. Of course the majority of writing students will not go on to have careers as published writers, but they are as likely as students in any other humanities course to have had experiences or learned things that will benefit them in their future lives. Or not.


HH: Who are you reading at the moment?

FB: Not the right thing! Jose Saramago’s Notebook, which has lovely things in it but is too dominated by political certainties (not Antonio Lobo Antunes or Clarice Lispector). Peter Temple’s Truth, which is entertaining but rests too heavily on genre conventions (not Elmore Leonard).


HH: Zombie vs Vampire – who would win?

FB: I have consulted widely. Elizabeth says it’s like lions and tigers. One on one the vampire would win. In a group fight the zombies would win because they would cooperate. Jack [their son] says it depends which World you are in.



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Quick Ten Interview Series


Once a month I talk to some of my favourite people about the creative process.


August 2012


Sarah Jane Barnett & Chloe Lane

Sarah Jane Barnett & Chloe Lane

Sarah Jane Barnett’s collection